Flood Cycles

By Gregory Paul Pavlik


To research flood history on a Nebraska river and to see if past precipitation records could be used for future predictions.


Use current on-line references and Climprob to research a Nebraska river's flood history.

To obtain the ClimProb software, please contact:

Meyer,Steven J
Assistant Professor in Natural & Applied Sciences (Earth Science)
Office Address: LS 446
Mailing Address: ES 317
(920) 465-2371
University of Wisconsin, Green Bay

Teacher Note: This lesson is intended to generate more questions than it answers. Both teachers and students will find better ways than the ones presented here to look at a rivers flood history. Any river could be used and any resource could be used too. I would like to hear from anyone that has developed a similar lesson or used part of this lesson to branch off in a different direction.


  • Access to the Internet
  • Climprob
  • Notebook paper

Step 1:

  • Introduce flood cycles to the students.
  • Have students research major floods that fit the idea of the 30 year and 100 year flood cycles.
  • Brainstorm questions that the students have about floods.... Example: -What is the definition of a flood
  • Are some rivers more likely to flood than others? Why?

Step 2:

  • Have students identify major rivers in Nebraska that have a city or number of cities on or near it. It would be nice if some of these cities would part of Climprob’s database.

Step 3:

  • Background research must be conducted about the flooding history of the selected river.
  • One possible way.... Many towns now have a community web page with a contact person. Have students make contact with these communities and see if they could collect data from them that might be found in the local newspaper or from personal interviews. Another way could be to contact the local science teacher through email and set up a dialog with science students from the selected towns.
  • Personally, I would first try the community web page. To have the students have the possibility of creating a dialog with someone who might have experienced a major flood, 40 or 50 years ago would be a great learning experience for them. You could also use this as a link across the curriculum with your social studies teacher(s).

Step 4:

Once the background research is completed then use Climprob to study precipitation patterns. The idea that I would try to bring to the students is the many different factors that could lead to floods.

For example:

  • Winter snowfall previous to a spring flood
  • Large amounts of spring rain
  • Both of the above could lead to...
  • Large amounts of runoff
  • Shallow water table ( depends on location )

In the above example the students could start to look at several different precipitation patterns and then try to answer the question what caused the flood. In many cases it may be more than one factor that lead to a flood. Turn the students loose on Climprob and let them discover.

Once this model has been completed for one river it will be more interesting to at other rivers and compare all the events that could lead to a flood.

Step 5:

Using Climprob go back 30 years or ahead 30 years (if possible). Do the flood cycles discussed earlier occur exactly 30 years later or earlier. What about the 100 year floods. Once you find a second flood on the same river, (you might have already found out the dates of other floods through your earlier research ) use Climprob to see if similar precipitation patterns were recorded before the other flood.