The probability distributions of external-corrosion pit depth and pit growth rate were investigated in underground pipelines using Monte Carlo simulations. The study combines a predictive pit growth model developed by the authors with the observed distributions of the model variables in a range of soils. Depending on the pipeline age, any of the three maximal extreme value distributions, i.e. Weibull, Fréchet or Gumbel, can arise as the best fit to the pitting depth and rate data. The Fréchet distribution best fits the corrosion data for long exposure periods. This can be explained by considering the long-term stabilization of the diffusion-controlled pit growth. The findings of the study provide reliability analysts with accurate information regarding the stochastic characteristics of the pitting damage in underground pipelines. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.