NOAA 2001-231
Contact: Bob Chartuk


Predicting how much water will come from the heavy snow covering much of New England is vital to NOAA's National Weather Service flood forecasters who have already raised a red flag over the region's potential for flooding this spring.

To give forecasters the upper hand in monitoring the flood risk, a special aircraft operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been traversing the skies over New England and is feeding vital snow pack data to the Northeast River Forecast Center in Taunton, Mass.

"With up to a foot of water locked up in the snow pack, we are keeping a watchful eye on much of New England where a rapid snow melt could cause flooding," said Ronald Martin, hydrologist-in-charge of the river forecast center. "The remote sensing data is of great value to the flood forecast process because it pinpoints the snow pack's water equivalent."

According to Martin, while the short term forecast doesn't call for flooding at this time, a rapid warming trend coupled with heavy rain could melt the snow fast enough to cause severe flooding of rivers and streams.

The nation's Spring Flood Potential Outlook was the subject of a Washington, D.C., press conference yesterday where the nation's top weather officials highlighted the New England flood threat.

Armed with a sophisticated spectrometer, the Twin Engine Aero Commander is the world's first airborne survey platform, noted pilot Barry Choy, a NOAA Corps Lieutenant Commander from the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center in Chanhassen, Minn. For the New England work, the plane is operating out of Jet Aviation at Hanscom Field.

The sensing equipment measures natural gamma radiation from the earth and compares it to readings taken when the land was free from snow. "By gauging the amount of radiation blocked by the snow pack, we can precisely calculate the water equivalent of the snow," Choy said. Data from each flight line is transmitted directly to the river forecast center where the information is put into the computer models used to produce flood potential maps and forecasts.

Flood forecast information is available directly from the river forecast center's homepage at