NOAA 2001-212
Contact: Ron Trumbla


To stem the tide of deaths and property losses associated with floods and droughts, the NOAA's National Weather Service is expanding a new set of river forecast tools to better prepare government agencies, private institutions and individuals in the 21st century. This month, North Dakota's Grand Forks Forecast Office began using the Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service, which forecasts river activity from hours to months in advance. The National Weather Service plans to use the AHPS across the nation to improve its forecasts of floods, which according to a NOAA study, may save $200 million in floods losses and an additional $400 million in economic benefits to water resource users each year.

"Flooding can disrupt and disorganize entire communities," said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Jack Kelly, director of the National Weather Service. "The new flood prediction tool should give forecasters an advantage in providing timely and accurate information about approaching and on-going floods."

The AHPS is a Web-based suite of information tools that provides more detailed river forecasts from hours to days and months in advance of floods. The information and visual displays are developed at NWS River Forecast Centers using modern technologies such as geostationary satellites, Doppler radar, weather observation stations, and the computer and communications system known as the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System.

"Flooding is one of the key factors influencing our economic and social lives," said Dennis McCarthy, director of the NWS Central Region, where the Grand Forks office is located. "Floods can influence the bottom line of large and small businesses with direct and indirect impact on revenues and profits, but with additional information about river levels, expected crests and probabilities of occurrence, local emergency managers will be able to make quicker decisions of how to mitigate flood damages."

Using sophisticated computer models and large amounts of data from a wide variety of NOAA sources, such as automated gauges, satellites and radars, the National Weather Service provides hydrologic forecasts for almost 4,000 locations across the United States. Used by a wide range of customers, these forecasts are a basis for operation and management of flood-control structures. Emergency managers use the forecasts to fight floods, evacuate residents and to take other measures to mitigate the impact of flooding.

Contingent on funding, the NWS has finalized plans to expand implementation of AHPS to Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and parts of Iowa, Missouri, and North Dakota. The expansion will also include tributaries within the Ohio River basin in parts of Kentucky, Ohio, and western Pennsylvania.

"As the nation's population grows and infrastructure costs increase, natural disasters [such as floods] can threaten social stability," said Kenneth D. King, chief of the Central Region's Hydrologic Services Division. "While floods are impossible to prevent completely, and there is no way to guarantee protection of property, the National Weather Service and other federal, state and local agencies have proved that the loss of life can be greatly reduced."

John Ingram, program manager for AHPS at NWS headquarters, said, "As more people increasingly choose to live by water, there is an increased need to educate the public about flood hazards and to improve flood forecasts. AHPS products cover forecast periods ranging from hours to months, and include valuable information for emergency managers, such as the likelihood that an event will happen."

AHPS will show how high a flooding river will rise, when it is likely to reach its peak or crest, areas likely to be flooded, the volume of water that will pass at different points along the river, the levels of past floods, and considerable additional information, King said. The AHPS Web site, he added, contains a map of the river basin and various points along the river for which information is available. The data are not limited to information about floods, but can also cover potential for droughts.

King said the NWS conducted a successful test and demonstration of AHPS in the Des Moines River basin in March 1997. Exercises during the development process proved AHPS usefulness to local water resource and emergency management agencies.

"Long-term forecasting will enable emergency managers to plan ahead and make more informed cost-saving and life-saving decisions in preparing for and fighting floods," King said. "Water managers will find AHPS data invaluable in planning for droughts. Hydroelectric companies, river barge operators, households, recreational water users, farmers and businesses located near rivers will all benefit."

Additional information on the Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Services may be obtained from the Web site at