Extreme Water: Can NOAA’s Predictive Tech Help Avert Disaster?

Aug. 17, 2016
Flooding devastated parts of Louisiana last week. Over 20,000 people were rescued from rising waters and thousands of homes have were inundated, forcing more than 10,000 people into shelters. Flooding claimed at least seven lives.

Governor John Bel Edwards called the circumstances a “historic, unprecedented flooding event.” The extreme severity of the storm, he explained, rendered previous knowledge about flood patterns and historic data useless.

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“The simple fact of the matter here is we’re breaking records,” Edwards told reporters at a press conference. “And any time you break a record, the National Weather Service cannot tell you what you can expect in the way of the floodwaters: how wide they’re going to be and how deep they’re going to be.”

Our planet is changing. NASA’s satellite monitoring systems have quantified the shrinking edges of the world’s ice sheets, as well as the rise of global sea level.

Data indicates that climate change means more frequent and severe droughts as well as a heightened risk of flooding.

In a recent study called Global Flood Risk under Climate Change, a team of scientists from the University of Tokyo presented global flood risk projections based on the outputs of 11 climate models. Their study finds that a warmer climate will most lead to more frequent flooding.

“Floods are among the most major climate risk disasters,” the paper explains. “In the past decade, reported annual losses from floods have reached tens of billions of US dollars and thousands of people were killed each year. Losses and the number of casualties could be greater in the future.”

To address the reality of increased water and weather instability, on August 16th, NOAA launched a new tool, called the National Water Model, to help better forecast floods and manage water by simulating water movement throughout rivers and streams across the US. The system uses data from more than 8,000 US Geological Survey gauges to forecast conditions for 2.7 million locations.

“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,” said Louis Uccellini, Ph.D., director of the National Weather Service in a press release. “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.”

Can this predictive technology keep communities safe and help prevent disaster?
About the Author

Laura Sanchez

Laura Sanchez is the editor of Distributed Energy and Water Efficiency magazines.

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