NOAA 2003-R208
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The Great Flood of 1993, America’s worst flooding disaster, triggered an effort by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service (NOAA Weather Service) to develop a forecast system that provides 30-day advance warning forecasts about the severity of floods. The system is now a reality and a funding request in the Commerce Department’s NOAA Fiscal Year 2004 budget would give it nationwide coverage.

Within its official budget request for fiscal year 2004, NOAA is seeking $6.1 million to fund the river forecast system, known as the Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service (AHPS). AHPS is part of the focus at the American Meteorological Society’s 83rd Annual Meeting in Long Beach, Calif., this week. The conference’s theme touches on the human vulnerability to the harmful effects of water, including floods and droughts.

Since the program was first funded in 2000, AHPS has been deployed in flood-prone areas of the Upper Mississippi - the source of the 1993 flood - and Ohio River basins. New funding will expand the program to all NOAA Weather Service forecast offices.

“Floods are a serious threat to life and property,” said Gary Carter, director of the NOAA National Weather Service Office of Hydrologic Development.

He added that floods cause more than $6 billion in damages each year in the United States. “The more time we have to predict floods, the more time residents, emergency managers and water resource officials can have to take precautions.”

AHPS information comes from the combined use of remote sensing, data automation and advanced computer modeling to analyze river data and create graphical displays of flood probability forecasts, including flood-forecast maps, pinpointing areas where flooding may occur.

The service has been a boon for NOAA Weather Service meteorologists and water resource managers trying to keep ahead of the next flood - or drought. In full use, NOAA Weather Service officials expect AHPS to provide significant lead times for flood events, as long as several months in advance.

According to a report from the National Hydrologic Warning Council, AHPS - once fully implemented across the United States - will provide $766 million in economic benefits each year. Of that amount:

  • $243 million in benefits would stem from increased ability of emergency managers and local officials in making decisions about reinforcement of levees and evacuation of people from potential floods.
  • $273 would result from the improved ability of water mangers who, under drought conditions, must make critical water allocation decisions, such as whether to release water from reservoirs in the spring, or hold it for anticipated agricultural and industrial needs.
  • $169 milliion in savings per year would come from improved river information for navigation use, such as establishing cargo weight limits and barge displacement, or scheduling river transportation to take advantage of river flow conditions.
  • $81 million in savings would result from improved information provided to assist energy managers in decisions that will optimize hydroelectric power.

The 1993 flood covered 20 million acres in nine states, claimed 50 lives and caused $20 billion in damages. Carter said the notion for AHPS arose from the tragedy. “Ten years ago, a service like AHPS would have made a huge difference. But AHPS is here now, and our forecasters must have the opportunity to maximize its full potential. AHPS is water information for a stronger, safer America.”

Not Just For Floods

AHPS also is critical during drought periods. “The service can tell water resource managers whether to release water from reservoirs in the spring, or hold it for agricultural and industrial needs. It can also help resource officials price and manage water more effectively,” Carter said.

AHPS played a key role when drought conditions plagued Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York during the summer of 2002. AHPS provided low-flow information to local emergency managers and for members of the special Drought Task Force.

“This kind of enhanced river information helped the main decision makers balance the risks of using the scarce New England water resources for irrigation, recreation, transportation, power generation and municipal drinking supplies,” Carter said.

NOAA National Weather Service is the primary source of weather data, fore-casts and warnings for the United States and its territories. NOAA Weather Service operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast system in the world, helping to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy.

The Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.

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