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  Q = f(P,CN)    New Window
  Q = f(P,S)    New Window
  P = f(Q,CN)    New Window
  P = f(Q,S)    New Window
  CN = f(P,Q)    New Window
  S = f(P,Q)    New Window
  S = f(CN)    New Window
  CN = f(S)    New Window
  Ia = f(P,CN)    New Window

SCS Curve Number Method

The runoff curve number (also called a curve number or simply CN) is an empirical parameter used in hydrology for predicting direct runoff or infiltration from rainfall excess. The curve number method was developed by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, which was formerly called the Soil Conservation Service or SCS the number is still popularly known as a "SCS runoff curve number" in the literature. The runoff curve number was developed from an empirical analysis of runoff from small catchments and hillslope plots monitored by the USDA. It is widely used and efficient method for determining the approximate amount of direct runoff from a rainfall event in a particular area (Wikipedia)

The runoff curve number is based on the area's hydrologic soil group, land use, treatment and hydrologic condition. References, such as from USDA indicate the runoff curve numbers for characteristic land cover descriptions and a hydrologic soil group

The basic assumption of the SCS curve number method is that, for a single storm, the ratio of actual soil retention after runoff begins to potential maximum retention is equal to the ratio of direct runoff to available rainfall. This relationship, after algebraic manipulation and inclusion of simplifying assumptions, results in the following equation found in Section 4 of the National Engineering Handbook (NEH-4) (USDA-SCS, 1985), where curve number (CN) represents a convenient representation of the potential maximum soil retention, S (Ponce and Hawkins, 1996)

  • Q is runoff ([L]; in)
  • P is rainfall ([L]; in)
  • S is the potential maximum soil moisture retention after runoff begins ([L]; in)
  • Ia is the initial abstraction ([L]; in), or the amount of water before runoff, such as infiltration, or rainfall interception by vegetation; and Ia = 0.2S

  • The runoff curve number, CN, is then related

    CN has a range from 30 to 100; lower numbers indicate low runoff potential while larger numbers are for increasing runoff potential.
    Values are tabulated in Chapter 9 of NEH-4 for various land covers and soil textures. These values were developed from annual flood rainfall-runoff data from the literature for a variety of watersheds generally less than one square mile in area (USDA-SCS, 1985).


  • Ponce, V. M. and R. H. Hawkins. 1996. Runoff curve number: Has it reached maturity? Journal of Hydrologic Engineering 1(1):11-19.

  • USDA-SCS. 1985. National Engineering Handbook, Section 4 - Hydrology. Washington, D.C.: USDA-SCS.

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