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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Grassland, Soil and Water Research Laboratory

Title: Evolution of the SCS curve number method and its applications to continuous runoff simulation)

item Williams, J
item Kannan, N
item Wang, X
item Santhi, C
item Arnold, Jeffrey

Submitted to: Journal Hydrologic Engineering
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/20/2011
Publication Date: 11/1/2012
Citation: Williams, J.R., Kannan, N., Wang, X., Santhi, C., Arnold, J.G. 2012. Evolution of the SCS curve number method and its applications to continuous runoff simulation. Journal Hydrologic Engineering. 17(11):1221-1229.

Interpretive Summary: In the 1950’s, the runoff curve number (CN) method was developed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to estimate direct runoff from rainfall for designing conservation structures. Since then, the CN method has been implemented in several natural resource models used by NRCS for national conservation planning and policy development. Several methods have been developed to use CN in a continuous mode within comprehensive water balance models. In this study, we describe the evolution of the CN method and recent developments. The different methods for implementing CN with continuous models are compared and discussed. The results indicate that CN methods can provide realistic and robust estimates of runoff over a wide range of soil properties, providing a useful technique for NRCS conservation planning.

Technical Abstract: The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) [previously Soil Conservation Service (SCS)] developed the SCS runoff curve-number (CN) method for estimating direct runoff from storm rainfall. The NRCS uses the CN method for designing structures and for evaluating their effectiveness. Structural design is usually based on a single event of a certain probability of occurrence. During the years when many floodwater-retarding watershed projects were planned and constructed (1950–1980), the CN equation was used in a continuous mode to evaluate the projects. To operate CN in a continuous mode, runoff was estimated from a daily rainfall record of approximately 30 years. For each day of recorded rainfall, the five-day antecedent rainfall was used to assign a CN 1 (dry condition), CN 2 (average condition), or CN 3 (wet condition), and runoff was estimated with the appropriate CN. With the development of continuous hydrologic simulation models, CN was related directly to soil water content or estimated using rainfall and potential evapotranspiration (PET) to drive an index. Several methods were attempted and used with different degrees of success over a period of many years. The purpose of this study is to describe the evolution of the continuous CN method and its recent developments. Test results on the basis of the direct-link soil-moisture approach and the revised soil-moisture index method are presented for demonstration purposes. The results indicate that the revised soil-moisture index method is robust and produces realistic runoff estimates over a wide range of soil properties.

Last Modified: 05/23/2017
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