NOAA 2003-R236
Contact: Pat Slattery
NOAA News Releases 2003
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Risk was a constant companion for early American fortune seekers looking for gold near the rivers of the Kentucky Appalachians, with mighty rushing waters that could swell at a moments notice. But for Eric Thomas, assistant director at the East Kentucky Science Center at Prestonsburg, access to NOAA river forecasts was as good as gold in protecting his family from the raging waters of the Big Sandy River during February 2003 flooding.

Thomas is just one of thousands of people who have discovered the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Weather Service (NWS) Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service (AHPS). NOAA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Like other users of NWS flood products, Thomas accessed AHPS information from the web page of the weather service’s Jackson, Ken., weather forecast office to help him make decisions to protect his family and property from the Feb. 15-16 floods. With his mother’s home located in a flood-prone area of the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River in Mossy Bottom, about five miles north of Pikeville in Pike County, Thomas long ago learned to keep an eye on the river after heavy rains and now relies on the NWS to keep aware of the river’s activities.

Following the February flood, Thomas wrote to thank the staff at the Jackson weather service forecast office for the office’s online AHPS graphics, saying the web page was “a critical part of my decision making process.” Thomas explained how he made frequent use of the AHPS web page Feb. 15 to check on the river level. “Being able to see the actual river stage, follow the graph to see the rate the river is rising, and the projected crest elevation and projected time of crest were very crucial elements in deciding what to move and where to move it,” Thomas said. “Being able to compare the actual rate of rise to the projected rate of rise was a tremendous help to my family and me.”

According to Thomas, his family used AHPS information to make a late-night decision to move furnishings to the upper floor of his mother’s home. “We ended with very minimal property loss and normal flood-related damage to the structure of my mother’s home as a result of this flooding event,” Thomas wrote, adding: “I doubt we would have been able to come through this time with such a minimal loss of property without the assistance the staff of the Jackson NOAA Weather Service office gave us.”

Thomas said he was able to use the Jackson office AHPS graphics again during a Feb. 22-23 flood threat to see that the crest estimate had been lowered and there would be no need for moving possessions or otherwise trying to stop rising flood waters. “It was a great relief,” he wrote, “and we all got a good night’s sleep.”

According to Kenneth D. King, chief of hydrologic services at NOAA Weather Service central region headquarters in Kansas City, “AHPS provides emergency managers and water control agencies with more and better information about flood possibilities than previously possible so they can make better decisions about flood management. But AHPS is proving itself as an excellent source of flood and river information for the public.” King added, “Public input has shown us that people not trained in hydrology can follow rising and falling river levels on our AHPS graphics pages – and AHPS can be a valuable tool in determining a number of water impacts other than flooding. It’s heartening to know the public is making excellent use of AHPS to access all sorts of information about water levels from full flood to drought.”

The weather service, according to King, has solicited public input on AHPS with overwhelmingly positive results. Among the comments was a Nebraska user who employs AHPS to help in “analysis of river conditions and how they may impact operations” at a nuclear power plant. Other comments included boaters who rely on the information for safe river navigation.

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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