Seasonal Variations in Runoff Potential

Water enters hydrologic systems as precipitation, primarily in the form of rainfall or snowmelt. It is then delivered to surface waters from runoff or infiltrates into the subsurface. The amount of water that infiltrates into the ground versus becoming runoff depends on a number of variables, including the intensity of precipitation or irrigation, soil infiltration capacity, site characteristics, antecedent soil moisture, and season. The following are some of the seasonal changes in runoff versus infiltration potential:

During the winter, soils in New York are likely to be frozen and impermeable to water. Snowmelt, rain, and low evapotranspiration rates in the spring generate wet soil conditions and downward movement of water to groundwater. The potential for runoff is high because the near-saturated or partially frozen soils have low water infiltration capacities.

During the summer, high rates of evaporation and plant water uptake may reduce soil water storage, leaving none to percolate downward. Summer rains only partially recharge the soil profile, and the soil’s moisture holding capacity is typically not exceeded. Except for high-intensity thunderstorms, runoff and erosion potentials are generally low during the summer.

In the late fall, evapotranspiration rates decrease, and groundwater recharge occurs when the moisture-holding capacity of the soil is exceeded. Runoff and erosion potentials also increase during this period. However, in New York, runoff from turf most often occurs from wet soils and not from high rainfall intensity.