The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS, formerly the Soil Conservation Service, SCS) unit hydrograph (UH) is one of the most commonly used synthetic UH methods for hydrologic modeling and engineering design all over the world. However, previous studies have shown that the application of the NRCS UH method for some ungauged watersheds in the state of Indiana produced unrealistic flood predictions for both the peak discharge and the time to peak. The objective of this work is to customize the NRCS UH by analyzing the role of its two key parameters, namely, the peak rate factor (PRF) and the lag time, in creating the runoff hydrograph. Based on 120 rainfall-runoff events collected from 30 small watersheds in Indiana over the past two decades, the observed UHs are derived and the corresponding PRF and lag time are extracted. The observed UHs in Indiana show that the mean value of PRF is 371, which is lower than the standard PRF of 484, and the NRCS lag time equation tends to underestimate the “true” lag time. Moreover, a multiple linear regression method, especially the stepwise selection technique, is employed to relate the NRCS UH parameters to the most appropriate geomorphic attributes extracted from the study watersheds. Both the statewide and regional regression models show that the main channel slope is a major factor in determining the PRF and lag time. A customized Indiana unit hydrograph, referred as Finley UH to honor David Finley who inspired this study, is derived with updated parameters and the Gamma function. Validation results show that the Finley UH provides more reliable and accurate predictions in terms of the peak discharge and the time to peak than the original NRCS UH for the watersheds in Indiana.

Report Number



NRCS unit hydrograph, peak rate factor, lag time, flood hydrograph prediction, geomorphic attributes, ungauged watersheds, Indiana

SPR Number


Performing Organization

Joint Transportation Research Program

Date of this Version


SPR-4433 Technical Summary.pdf (938 kB)
Technical Summary