NOAA 99-20
Contact: Randee Exler


While most of the nation is off the hook for a heightened threat of flooding this spring, flooding can and will happen. "Be aware and be prepared," is the message National Weather Service Director John J. Kelly Jr. took to the public as NOAA officials unveiled the annual spring flooding outlook today.

"People often think that weather-related deaths are only caused by severe storms like tornadoes or hurricanes, but in reality, more deaths are caused by floods," said Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley, in warning Americans to be aware of the dangers of flooding. "I urge all Americans to use caution when traveling and to pay attention to weather service warnings. I commend the weather service for its efforts to alert the American public on the dangers of flooding."

"There is greater than average potential this spring for flooding in Oregon and Washington east of the Cascades due to snow melt. Other areas with heightened flood potential are in Idaho and adjacent streams in Oregon and Montana, North Dakota's Red River Basin, which suffered record floods in 1997, and Devil's Lake in North Dakota, a closed drainage system that has steadily risen since 1993," reported Frank Richards, head of the NWS Hydrologic Information Center.

"In contrast," Richards said, "dryer than average conditions this spring may result in water concerns for southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, southern Utah, western Texas and Hawaii."

The rest of the nation will see conditions that are typical of those experienced during an average spring for local areas, according to Richards.

"Don't be complacent. There's no time like a sunny day to prepare for a flood," Kelly said. "Every spring, short-lived downbursts cause flash floods. This type of rapid onset, localized flooding can even strike areas that are considered extremely dry." Flash flooding, common in late spring and summer, causes more than three-quarters of all flood fatalities. Annually, the nation experiences an average of 100 flood-related fatalities.

"The nation's spring flood potential is consistent with a La Niña pattern," said Richards. La Niña, the climatic opposite of El Niño, is characterized by cooler than normal sea- surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean that impact global weather patterns.

In the United States, more people die in floods than in any other weather-related incident. Average annual flood losses total $4.5 billion dollars a year. Of the 100 or so flood deaths that occur each year, more than half are vehicle-related. In many cases,
people die when driving their vehicles into flooded areas. Less than six inches of water can cause a person to lose control of the vehicle and just a few inches more can float a car or truck downstream.

"If you see water covering the road ahead--especially in low-lying areas--turn around and find another route," said Kelly. "The popular image of a vehicle splashing through water is a dangerous one."

Kelly noted that more skillful forecasters and new technology such as Doppler radar, weather satellites, advanced computer models, and widespread observation systems make flood prediction more timely and accurate than ever before.

"Our warnings mean nothing if they are not received or if people don't take appropriate action," the National Weather Service director said. He urged Americans to purchase NOAA Weather Radios that receive weather and warning information 24 hours a day and develop family flood safety plans.

The annual spring outlook compiles information provided by the National Weather Service's nationwide network of River Forecast Centers and Weather Forecast Offices. NWS hydrologists and meteorologists work with federal, state and local agencies to gather data on snow, streamflow, soil moisture, and river and ice measurements. The data are then combined with rainfall data and short- and long-term weather forecasts to determine the likelihood of flooding throughout the United States.

The nation's spring flood potential can be monitored through the National Weather Service's Hydrologic Information Center Web site at:

Additional information can be found on the following Web sites:
National Weather Service Public Affairs:
National Climate Prediction Center