Local rainfall or river overflow? Re-evaluating the cause of the Great 2011 Thailand flood

TitleLocal rainfall or river overflow? Re-evaluating the cause of the Great 2011 Thailand flood
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsLoc H H, Park E, Chitwatkulsiri D, Lim J, Yun S-H, Maneechot L, Phuong D M
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Date Published10/2020
Other NumbersArticle number: 125368

The Great 2011 Thailand flood is one of the most catastrophic flood disasters recorded worldwide in modern history, which covered about 100,000 km2 of the country and resulted in 813 casualties and incurring US$ 46 billion in economic losses. In this paper, we re-evaluate the flood event to identify the root source of the catastrophe. By analyzing hydrological data from gauge stations along the Chao Phraya River (CPR) and remote sensing data, we decoupled the volumetric contributions of river overflow and local rainfall to the lowland reach of the basin and found that the latter contributed most to the flooding. More specifically, out of the total of 77.6 km3 of floodwaters estimated, 73.7% was from precipitation, while only 26.3% was from river discharges. This finding differs from the official reports or previous studies, which attributed the main cause of the river overbank flow. Therefore, it is also inferred that the upstream dam operations would have been only marginally helpful in mitigating the flood since rainfall made up most of the floodwaters in the downstream reach of the river. Our finding offers a new perspective that the local rainfall could be a significant source of the floodwater, rather than river overflow in the lower reaches of a large monsoonal river system in Southeast Asia. Thus, this paper contributes to the understanding of complex flood processes in large river basins and provides fresh insights for efficient flood control and stormwater management.