Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Development and Integration of Sub-hourly Rainfall–Runoff Modeling Capability Within a Watershed Model


Increasing urbanization changes runoff patterns to be flashy and instantaneous with decreased base flow. A model with the ability to simulate sub-daily rainfall–runoff processes and continuous simulation capability is required to realistically capture the long-term flow and water quality trends in watersheds that are experiencing urbanization. Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) has been widely used in hydrologic and nonpoint sources modeling. However, its subdaily modeling capability is limited to hourly flow simulation. This paper presents the development and testing of a sub-hourly rainfall–runoff model in SWAT. SWAT algorithms for infiltration, surface runoff, flow routing, impoundments, and lagging of surface runoff have been modified to allow flow simulations with a sub-hourly time interval as small as one minute. Evapotranspiration, soil water contents, base flow, and lateral flow are estimated on a daily basis and distributed equally for each time step. The sub-hourly routines were tested on a 1.9 km2 watershed (70% undeveloped) near Lost Creek in Austin Texas USA. Sensitivity analysis shows that channel flow parameters are more sensitive in sub-hourly simulations (Δt = 15 min) while base flow parameters are more important in daily simulations (Δt = 1 day). A case study shows that the sub-hourly SWAT model reasonably reproduces stream flow hydrograph under multiple storm events. Calibrated stream flow for 1 year period with 15 min simulation (R 2 = 0.93) shows better performance compared to daily simulation for the same period (R 2 = 0.72). A statistical analysis shows that the improvement in the model performance with sub-hourly time interval is mostly due to the improvement in predicting high flows. The sub-hourly version of SWAT is a promising tool for hydrology and non-point source pollution assessment studies, although more development on water quality modeling is still needed.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Abulohom MS, Shah SMS, Ghumman AR (2001) Development of a rainfall–runoff model, its calibration and validation. Water Resour Manag 15:149–163

  2. Arnold JG, Allen PM, Muttiah R, Bernhardt G (1995) Automated base flow separation and recession analysis techniques. Ground Water 33(6):1010–1018

  3. Arnold JG, Srinivasan R, Muttiah RS, Williams JR (1998) Large area hydrologic modeling and assessment part I: model development. J Am Water Resour Assoc 34(1):73–89

  4. Aron G, White EL (1982) Fitting a gamma distribution over a synthetic unit hydrograph. J Am Water Resour Assoc 18(1):95–98

  5. Benham BL, Baffaut C, Zeckoski RW et al (2006) Modeling bacteria fate and transport in watersheds to support TMDLs. Trans ASABE 49(4):987–1002

  6. Bicknell BR, Imhoff JC, Kittle JL Jr, Donigian AS Jr, Johanson RC (1995) Hydrological simulation program—FORTRAN. User’s Manual for Release 11

  7. Borah DK, Bera M (2003) Watershed-scale hydrologic and nonpoint-source pollution models: review of mathematical bases. Trans ASAE 46(6):1553–1556

  8. Borah DK, Yagow G, Saleh A, Barnes PL, Rosenthal W, Krug EC, Hauck LM (2006) Sediment and nutrient modeling for TMDL development and implementation. Trans ASABE 49(4):967–986

  9. Borah DK, Arnold JG, Bera M, Krug EC, Liang XZ (2007) Storm event and continuous hydrologic modeling for comprehensive and efficient watershed Simulations. J Hydrol Eng 12(6):605–616

  10. Bracmort KS, Arabi M, Frankenberger JR, Engel BA, Arnold JG (2006) Modeling long-term water quality impact of structural BMPs. Trans ASABE 49(2):367–374

  11. Burns D, Vitvar T, McDonnell J, Hassett J, Duncan J, Kendall C (2005) Effects of suburban development on runoff generation in the Croton River basin, New York, USA. J Hydrol 311(1–4):266–281

  12. Chang HJ (2007) Comparative streamflow characteristics in urbanizing basins in the Portland Metropolitan Area, Oregon, USA. Hydrol Process 21(2):211–222

  13. City of Austin (2006) Stormwater runoff quality and quantity from small watersheds in Austin, TX, City of Austin. Water Quality Report Series, COA-ERM/WQM 2006-1

  14. Corbett CW, Wahl M, Porter DE, Edwards D, Moise C (1997) Nonpoint source runoff modeling—a comparison of a forested watershed and an urban watershed on the South Carolina coast. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 213(1):133–149

  15. Debele B, Srinivasan R, Parlange JY (2009) Hourly analyses of hydrological and water quality simulations using the ESWAT Model. Water Resour Manag 23:303–324

  16. Di Luzio M, Arnold JG (2004) Formulation of a hybrid calibration approach for a physically based distributed model with NEXRAD data input. J Hydrol 298(1–4):136–154

  17. Eckhardt K, Arnold JG (2001) Automatic calibration of a distributed catchment model. J Hydrol 251(1–2):103–109

  18. Feng K, Molz FJ (1997) A 2-D, diffusion-based, wetland flow model. J Hydrol 196(1–4):230–250

  19. Garen DC, Moore DS (2005) Curve number hydrology in water quality modeling: uses, abuses, and future directions. J Am Water Resour Assoc 41(2):377–388

  20. Gassman P, Reyes M, Green C, Arnold JG (2007) The soil and water assessment tool: historical development, applications, and future research directions. Trans ASABE 50(4):1211–1250

  21. Hantush MM, Kalin L (2006) Impact of urbanization on the hydrology of Pocono creek watershed: a model study. National Risk Management Research Laboratory, Office of Research and Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Cincinnati, Ohio 45268

  22. Hargreaves GL, Hargreaves GH, Riley JP (1985) Agricultural benefits for Senegal River basin. J Irrig Drain Eng 111(2):113–124

  23. Harmel RD, Rossi CG, Dybala T et al (2008) Conservation effects assessment project research in the Leon River and Riesel watersheds. J Soil Water Conserv 63(6):453–460

  24. Immerzeel WW, Droogers P (2008) Calibration of a distributed hydrological model based on satellite evapotranspiration. J Hydrol 349(3–4):411–424

  25. Jain MK, Singh VP (2005) DEM-based modelling of surface runoff using diffusion wave equation. J Hydrol 302(1–4):107–126

  26. Julien PY, Saghafian B (1991) CASC2D user’s manual: a two-dimensional watershed rainfall–runoff model. Colorado State University, Center for Geosciences, Hydrologic Modeling Group

  27. Kannan N, White SM, Worrall F, Whelan MJ (2007) Sensitivity analysis and identification of the best evapotranspiration and runoff options for hydrological modelling in SWAT-2000. J Hydrol 332(3–4):456–466

  28. Kim NW, Lee J (2009) Integration of SWAT and SWMM models. In: Proceedings of the 2009 international SWAT conference. Boulder, CO

  29. King KW (2000) Response of Green-Ampt Mein-Larsen simulated runoff volumes to temporally aggregated precipitation. J Am Water Resour Assoc 36(4):791–797

  30. King KW, Arnold JG, Bingner RL (1999) Comparison of Green-Ampt and curve number methods on Goodwin Creek watershed using SWAT. Trans ASABE 42(4):919–925

  31. Mausbach MJ, Dedrick AR (2004) The length we go: measuring environmental benefits of conservation practices. J Soil Water Conserv 59(5):96A–103A

  32. Mein R, Larson C (1973) Modeling infiltration during a steady rain. Water Resour Res 9(2):384–394

  33. Moriasi D, Arnold JG, van Liew M et al (2007) Model evaluation guidelines for systematic quantification of accuracy in watershed simulations. Trans ASAE 50(3):885–900

  34. Muleta MK, Nicklow JW (2005) Sensitivity and uncertainty analysis coupled with automatic calibration for a distributed watershed model. J Hydrol 306(1–4):127–145

  35. Nearing MA, Liu BY, Risse LM, Zhang X (1996) Curve numbers and Green–Ampt effective hydraulic conductivities. J Am Water Resour Assoc 32:125–136

  36. Neitsch SL, Arnold JG, Kiniry JR, Williams JR (2005a) Soil and water assessment tool theoretical documentation. Grassland, Soil and Water Research Service, Temple

  37. Neitsch SL, Arnold JG, Kiniry JR, Srinivasan R, Williams JR (2005b) Soil and water assessment tool input/output file documentation. Version 2005, Grassland, soil and water research service, Temple, TX

  38. Overton D (1966) Muskingum flood routing of upland streamflow. J Hydrol 4:185–200.

  39. Pitt R, Voorhees J (1995) Source loading and management model (SLAMM)

  40. Radcliffe DE, Lin Z, Risse LM, Romeis JJ, Jackson CR (2009) Modeling phosphorus in the Lake Allatoona watershed using SWAT: I. Developing phosphorus parameter values. J Environ Qual 38(1):111–120

  41. Refsgaard JC, Storm B (1995) MIKE SHE. Chapter 23 in computer models of watershed hydrology, pp 809–846

  42. Richardson CW, Bucks DA, Sadler EJ (2008) The conservation effects assessment project benchmark watersheds: synthesis of preliminary findings. J Soil Water Conserv 63(6):590–604

  43. Rossman L (2004) Storm water management model User’s manual version 5.0. Water Supply and Water Resources Division National Risk Management Research Laboratory Cincinnati

  44. Santhi C, Arnold JG, Williams JR et al (2001) Application of a watershed model to evaluate management effects on point and nonpoint source pollution. Trans ASAE 44(6):1559–1570

  45. SCS (1972) National engineering handbook, section 4, hydrology. US Department of Agriculture, SCS, Washington, DC

  46. Texas Irrigation Center (2004) ET and Weather Data. Accessed 12 Dec 2010

  47. Tisdale TS, Yu JMHL (1999) Kinematic wave analysis of sheet flow using topography fitted coordinates. J Hydrol Eng 4(4):367–370

  48. van Griensven A, Meixner T (2003) LH-OAT sensitivity analysis tool. University of Arizona, Department of Hydrology and Water Resources, Tucson. Accessed 12 Dec

  49. van Griensven A, Meixner T, Grunwald S et al (2006) A global sensitivity analysis tool for the parameters of multi-variable catchment models. J Hydrol 324(1–4):10–23

  50. van Liew MW, Garbrecht J (2003) Hydrologic simulation of the little Wichita river experimental watershed using SWAT. J Am Water Resour Assoc 39(2):413–426

  51. van Liew M, Veith T, Bosch D, Arnold J (2007) Suitability of SWAT for the conservation effects assessment project: comparison on USDA agricultural research service watersheds. J Hydrol Eng 12:173

  52. Wang X, Youssef MA, Skaggs RW et al (2005) Sensitivity analyses of the nitrogen simulation model, DRAINMOD-N II. Trans ASAE 48(6):2205–2212

  53. White M (2009) Personal conversation. USDA-ARS Grassland, Soil and Water Research Laboratory, Temple, Texas; Email:

  54. Williams J (1969) Flood routing with variable travel time or variable storage coefficients. Trans ASAE 12(1):100–103

  55. Xiong YY, Melching CS (2005) Comparison of kinematic-wave and nonlinear reservoir routing of urban watershed runoff. J Hydrol Eng 10(1):39–49

  56. Zhang WH, Cundy TW (1989) Modeling of two-dimensional overland-flow. Water Resour Res 25(9):2019–2035

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Jaehak Jeong.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Jeong, J., Kannan, N., Arnold, J. et al. Development and Integration of Sub-hourly Rainfall–Runoff Modeling Capability Within a Watershed Model. Water Resour Manage 24, 4505–4527 (2010).

Download citation


  • SWAT
  • Rainfall–runoff modeling
  • Watershed modeling
  • Subdaily simulation
  • Sub-hourly simulation