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Scientist: ‘There Is No Such Thing As A 1000-Year Flood’

Climate Statistician Dr. Matt Briggs: Phrases like “100 year rainfalls” or floods or whatever for whatever period of time are awful. They convey an improper idea of uncertainty.

The phrase “X year event” is based on inverting the probability of the event; call that probability p. Thus “X year event” is equal to “1/p year event”, where p is the probability the event happens per year. That means a “100 year event” has a probability of 1%, and so on. A “1000 year event” sounds stupendous, and, to most ears, rarer than a 0.1% chance.

Anyway, these are all wrong.

It’s perfectly correct to make the statements like this: “The last time a flood this size occurred was in 1945.” That statement is not, however, equivalent to (in 2015) “That was a 70 year flood.”