Urban pluvial flooding prediction by machine learning approaches – a case study of Shenzhen city, China

Qian Ke, Xin Tian, Jeremy Bricker, Zhan Tian, Guanghua Guan, Huayang Cai, Xinxing Huang, Honglong Yang, Junguo Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
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Urban pluvial flooding is a threatening natural hazard in urban areas all over the world, especially in recent years given its increasing frequency of occurrence. In order to prevent flood occurrence and mitigate the subsequent aftermath, urban water managers aim to predict precipitation characteristics, including peak intensity, arrival time and duration, so that they can further warn inhabitants in risky areas and take emergency actions when forecasting a pluvial flood. Previous studies that dealt with the prediction of urban pluvial flooding are mainly based on hydrological or hydraulic models, requiring a large volume of data for simulation accuracy. These methods are computationally expensive. Using a rainfall threshold to predict flooding based on a data-driven approach can decrease the computational complexity to a great extent. In order to prepare cities for frequent pluvial flood events – especially in the future climate – this paper uses a rainfall threshold for classifying flood vs. non-flood events, based on machine learning (ML) approaches, applied to a case study of Shenzhen city in China. In doing so, ML models can determine several rainfall threshold lines projected in a plane spanned by two principal components, which provides a binary result (flood or no flood). Compared to the conventional critical rainfall curve, the proposed models, especially the subspace discriminant analysis, can classify flooding and non-flooding by different combinations of multiple-resolution rainfall intensities, greatly raising the accuracy to 96.5% and lowering the false alert rate to 25%. Compared to the conventional model, the critical indices of accuracy and true positive rate (TPR) were 5%-15% higher in ML models. Such models are applicable to other urban catchments as well. The results are expected to be used to assist early warning systems and provide rational information for contingency and emergency planning.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103719
Number of pages13
JournalAdvances in Water Resources
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Machine learning
  • Rainfall threshold
  • Shenzhen city
  • Urban pluvial flooding


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