Hydrology Quotes

“…a design flood from no-matter-how-complex a physical model is valueless unless a return period can be confidently assigned to it.” -Robert French, 2006a.

“…design rainfalls can not be used to produce historical floods, and historical rainfall can not be used to produce design floods…” -Robert French, 2006b.

“Quite likely the one using the hydrologic model has great skills in modelling and in computers but little understanding of the complexity of hydrologic systems.” – C. T. Haan, 2002.

“Since observations (data) in hydrology are generally thought of as random variables and any function of a random variable is a random variable, the parameters for the model effectively become random variables…” – C. T. Haan, 2002.

“In the conflict between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins, not through strength, but by perseverance! – H.J. Brown.”

“Dogs bark, rivers flood” – from Littlewood, 2016.

“Now that the one in 100 year flood has been, we can relax the floodplain restrictions on building consents?” – from Doyle, 2014.

“The two highest floods were considered outliers and were removed. This improved the fit of the Log-Pearson III distribution to the data” – name withheld.

“…the question is squarely raised: is it time to move away from the Q100 mentality and towards a different approach to risk management?” – Mr P Callaghan SC, Council Assisting,  Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry. 26th Oct 2011.

“The 1% Annual Exceedance Probability flood will remain the design flood event for the land use planning and building systems in Victoria” – Victorian Floodplain Management Strategy, 2016.

“We know a lot less about hundred-year floods than five-year floods – model error swells when it comes to small probabilities.  The rarer the event, the less tractable, and the less we know about how frequent its occurrence – yet the rarer the event, the more confident these ‘scientists’ involved in predicting, modeling and using PowerPoint in conferences with equations in multicolor background have become.” – Nassim Taleb, 2012.

“The drought it was the very worst.  When the flowers that we’d grown together died of thirst.” – Taylor Swift and Imogen Heap. Clean, from the album 1989.

“Make it rain girl, make it rain” – Yaeji, 2017 (Kathy Yaeji Lee)

“Few people think more than two or three times a year.  I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week”.  George Bernard Shaw as cited by Levitt and Debner, 2016.

“Just as a warm and moist environment is conducive to the spread of deadly bacteria, the world of hydrology – with its long time frames, complex outcomes, and murky cause and effect – are conductive to the spread of half-cocked guesses posing as fact.  And here’s why: the people making those wild guesses can usually get away with it!” – adapted from Levitt and Dubner, 2015, page 29.

“Good hydrology is about asking the simple question: is this right? It’s also about being prepared to change a position in the face of evidence and/or arguments that there is a better way” -adapted from Michael Short, 2016

Water can flow, or creep, or drip, or crash”, “Be water, my friend.”  – From a 1971 episode of the American television series “Longstreet” — uttered by Bruce Lee.  In Chinese Taoism, water represents power and flexibility in the face of obstacles.

Kenneth Arrow when he was working on month ahead weather forecasts in the Second World War (Szenberg, 1992):

The statisticians among us subjected these forecasts to verification and they differed in no way from chance. The forecasters themselves were convinced and requested that the forecasts be discontinued. The reply read approximately like this: “The commanding general is well aware that the forecasts are no good. However, he needs them for planning purposes”.



Doyle, M. (2014) Communicating flood risk to the general public.  Compilation of comments by Martin Doyle.  Current.  New Zealand Hydrological Society Newsletter. No. 45 May 2014.

French, R. (2006) Discussion of: “A quantile regression technique to estimate design floods for ungauged catchments in south-east Australia”.  Australian Journal of Water Resources 10(1): 109-110.

French, R. (2006) Discussion of: “Storms, storm bursts and flood estimation: a need for review of the AR&R procedures”.  Australian Journal of Water Resources 10(1): 113-114.

Haan, C. T. (2002) Statistical methods in hydrology (2nd ed).  Iowa State Press.

Levitt, S. D.  & Dubner, S. J. (2015) Think like a freak.  Penguin.

Littlewood, I. (2016) “Flood attenuation by holding back water in upper catchments”.  Circulation.  The Newsletter of the British Hydrological Society No. 128. Feb 2016 pp 10-11.  (I’m sure Littlewood didn’t make this up but it was the first time I’d seen it in print)

Short, M. (2016) Stopping the boats. In: ‘Opinion’ The Age 19 June 2016, page 32

Szenberg, M. (1992) Eminent economists: their life philosophies.  Cambridge University Press.

Taleb, Nassim N. (2012) Antifragile: things that gain from disorder.  Penguin.