Major boost for US flood forecasting

The US National Guard is taking part in flood rescue operations across Louisiana (Photo: US Department of Defense)
By Denis McClean

GENEVA, 17 August 2016 - In the midst of the country’s worst flood disaster since superstorm Sandy, a new forecasting tool has been launched which could save lives and revolutionise flood management across the USA.

While Louisiana struggled with record floodwaters, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its partners yesterday unveiled the National Water Model which uses a supercomputer and data from more than 8,000 U.S. Geological Survey gauges to simulate conditions for 2.7 million locations in the contiguous United States.

The model generates hourly forecasts for the entire river network. Previously, NOAA was only able to forecast streamflow for 4,000 locations every few hours.

The National Water Model will provide emergency managers, reservoir operators, first responders, farmers, barge operators, and ecosystem and floodplain managers and others with more accurate, detailed, frequent and expanded water information.

Mr. Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service, said: “With a changing climate, we’re experiencing more prolonged droughts and a greater frequency of record-breaking floods across the country, underscoring the nation’s need for expanded water information.

“The National Water Model will improve resiliency to water extremes in American communities. And as our forecasts get better, so will our planning and protection of life and property when there’s either too much water, too little, or poor water quality.”

Local and state officials have reported 11 flood deaths. It is estimated that a little over 20% of Louisiana residences carry flood insurance, and that number is lower in many of the parishes most afflicted by the rainstorms.

President Obama who made a pledge on World Water Day in March to introduce such an improvement, has expanded the federal disaster declaration for Louisiana to 20 parishes. More than 60,000 people across the state had already registered for federal aid.

Louisiana Governor, Mr. John Bel Edwards, was quoted in the media as stating “When you have a storm that is unnamed — it wasn’t a tropical storm, it wasn’t a hurricane — a lot of times people underestimate the impact that it would have.… But this is historic. We are seeing unprecedented flood levels as the waters move south.”

Governor Edwards estimated that more than 40,000 homes had been damaged by the heavy rainfall and floodwater. About 8,000 people were taking refuge in shelters.

5th Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction in May 2017 5th Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction in May 2017.
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