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Flooding Spring 2011

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The upper Midwest, the Deep South, the Northern Plains, the Ohio Valley and parts of southern New England are experiencing flooding now or are highly vulnerable to flooding this spring. In this episode of CoreCast USGS National Flood Coordinator Bob Holmes talks to CoreCast host  Kara Capelli about why increased flooding is likely this year and how USGS is responding.




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Kara Capelli:  Hello and welcome to USGS CoreCast.  I’m your host Kara Capelli. The National Weather Service is forecasting increased flooding for many areas of the country this year. The upper Midwest, the Deep South, the Northern Plains, the Ohio Valley and parts of Southern New England are experiencing flooding already or are highly vulnerable to flooding this spring. I recently spoke to Bob Holmes, the National Flood Coordinator for the US Geological Survey about flood forecast for this spring.

Bob Holmes:  Well, we got a very active weather pattern going on, coupled with, we have a huge snowpack in the upper Midwest and Northern Plains, states like Minnesota and North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and so, with that kind of snow on the ground and the active weather pattern we're in, we're looking at a very active flood season.

Kara Capelli:  For more than 100 years USGS has played a critical role in reducing flood losses by operating a nationwide streamgage network that monitors water level and flow of the Nation's rivers and streams. The National Weather Service uses information from this network to issue warnings, so local emergency managers can get people out of harm's way. When flooding happens the USGS is among the first to respond.

Bob Holmes:  So, we operate 7,500 to 7,800 streamgages across the country. And these are locations where we are monitoring the stream elevation and flow discharge at that location across the wide spectrum of river basin. And so that data is used by the National Weather Service and the Army Corps of Engineers and a number of other Federal, state and local agencies to understand hydrology of the nation. And in particular during flood times, we have to know what that stream flow is, to be able to use that in terms of flood models or flood fighting. And then after the flood is over, we look at the historical records through time.

And we can use that information to be able to design structures that would be high enough to be out of flooding or to withstand the force of the flood or some other things that we use that data for as engineers and scientist to be able to live on the landscape, out there where rivers and flood and streams receive that flow from rainfall and snowmelt, and things like that.

Kara Capelli:  I also ask Bob if this year's flooding is worse than previous years, and whether flooding has gotten more intense over time?

Bob Holmes:  Well, it depends on where you're at. And so, if we define flooding getting worse by the volumetric flow or the stage that's incurred by a peak flow in any given year, the USGS has a long term historical record at a number of sites. And so, the evidence of studies where we've looked at, what are the trends? Is flooding actually increasing in particular location? Or decreasing? Or what's the status on that? And it's really a mixed bag. We don't see a consistent systematic increase in flooding across the country.

There are locations where we've seen flooding increase over the last 80 years or so. There are also locations where we've seen flooding decrease in the last 85 years or so.

Kara Capelli:  You can keep yourself updated about water levels for the rivers and streams near you by signing up for USGS WaterAlert at where you can receive instant customized updates about water conditions at any of the thousands of sites nationwide where USGS collects real time water information. When you sign up for WaterAlert, you can customize the alert so that you receive notification when water exceeds any preset threshold or goes above the flood stage at your selected streamgage. You can find detailed information about flood predictions and warnings in your area on the National Weather Service page.

And don't forget to follow the USGS on Twitter at or visit our other social media channels at I'm Kara Capelli and CoreCast is a product of the US Geological Survey, Department of the Interior.


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