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What are the limitations of Rational Method in calculating runoff?

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Computation of runoff is a complicated matter which depends on many factors like the ground permeability, rainfall duration, rainfall pattern, catchment area characteristics etc. Basically, Rational Method is a means to find out the maximum discharge suitable for design purpose. In this method, it is assumed that the rainfall duration is the same as the time of concentration and the return period of rainfall intensity is the same as the peak runoff. Time of concentration refers to the time required for the most remote location of stormwater inside the catchment to flow to the outlet. When the time of concentration is equal to the rainfall period, the maximum discharge occurs and rainfall collected inside the catchment comes to the same outlet point.

Rational Method provides the peak discharge only and it cannot produce a hydrograph. If a more detailed pattern of runoff is required, unit hydrograph or other methods have to be used. The accuracy of rational method depends very much on our correct selection of runoff coefficient and delineation of catchment area.

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Rational Method is a rather conservative method. One of the basic assumptions of the rational formula is that the rainfall intensity must be constant for an interval at least equal to the time of concentration. For long duration of rainfall, this assumption may not hold true. Moreover, the runoff coefficient in Rational Method is difficult to be determined accurately and it depends on many factors like moisture condition of soils, rainfall intensity and duration, degree of soil compaction, vegetation etc. In addition, In Rational Method the runoff coefficient is independent of rainfall intensity and this does not reflect the actual situation.

This question is taken from book named – A Self Learning Manual – Mastering Different Fields of Civil Engineering Works (VC-Q-A-Method) by Vincent T. H. CHU.

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