Big South Fork Recording a 2020 Rain Event to Remember with Stream Gauges

Monday, February 24, 2020

The unusual weather event that occurred between February 4-6, 2020, left roughly seven inches of rain on Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, and the park’s four stream gauges were working hard to record the flow resulting from the precipitation.

The gauge on the South Fork Cumberland River at Leatherwood Ford, Tennessee recorded a peak flow at 1:00 PM on 2/06/2020 at 74,200 cubic feet per second (cfs) and a stage height of 39.44 feet. This was an increase in flow of 73,120 cfs and 32.16 foot increase in stage height over the base flow on 2/04/2020. This event is the highest streamflow to be recorded at the South Fork Cumberland at Leatherwood Ford location since the stream gauge was established in 1985.

The stream gauge on the New River near the Highway 27 Bridge rose over 28.5 feet during the event. Peak flow occurred at 8:00 PM on 2/6/2020 at 47,900 cfs and a stage height of 32.35 feet. Since the gauge’s establishment in 1934, peak flows have exceeded 40,000 cfs on only 9 occasions. This peak streamflow was the fourth greatest streamflow rate since the gauge became fully operational.

To put those numbers in context, it has been estimated that one cubic feet per second is equal to approximately 450 gallons of water flowing in one minute. The cfs that is considered safe for a body of water varies depending on where you are. The average paddler runs the park’s waterways between 1,000-5,000 cfs.

“Stream gauges provide valuable information on the flow of rivers and streams. That information helps park management make sound decisions to effectively manage natural resources, ensure visitor safety, and protect property,” said Superintendent Niki Stephanie Nicholas.


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