2011: The Year of the Flood

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Devastating floods across much of the U.S. were severe and unrelenting during the spring and summer of 2011. When floods happen, USGS crews are among the first-responders. Often working in dangerous conditions, USGS scientists measure streamflow and river levels, repair and install streamgages, measure water quality and changes in sediment flow, and assess river changes. From flood forecasts to difficult decisions about flood management, science is critical for flood preparations and response.

Details

Episode Number: 165

Date Taken:

Length: 00:07:27

Location Taken: US

Transcript

The Year of the Flood

Narrator: DEVASTATING FLOODS ACROSS MUCH OF THE

U.S. WERE SEVERE AND UNRELENTING DURING THE SPRING

AND SUMMER OF 2011. IN MORE THAN 15 STATES,

RIVERS OVERFLOWED THEIR BANKS AND COMMUNITIES WERE

FACED WITH THE POSSIBILITY OF CATASTROPHIC LOSSES.

THE CONTINUAL, RISING FLOOD WATERS ON MAJOR RIVERS

ALL OVER THE COUNTRY FORCED DECISION-MAKERS TO MAKE

DIFFICULT CHOICES ON HOW BEST TO SAFEGUARD PROPERTY,

REDUCE LOSSES AND LESSEN THE IMPACT OF THE RISING FLOOD WATERS.

AT THE USGS, WE KNOW THAT SCIENCE IS CRITICAL FOR

FLOOD PREPARATIONS AND RESPONSE. SCIENCE FOR DECISION-MAKING

BECAME VERY EVIDENT DURING THE EPIC FLOODS OF 2011.

WHEN FLOODS HAPPEN, USGS CREWS ARE AMONG THE FIRST-RESPONDERS.

OFTEN WORKING IN DANGEROUS CONDITIONS, USGS SCIENTISTS

MEASURE STREAMFLOW AND RIVER LEVELS, REPAIR AND

INSTALL STREAMGAGES, MEASURE WATER QUALITY,

CHANGES IN SEDIMENT FLOW, AND ASSESS RIVER CHANGES.

THE USGS ALSO PRODUCES AERIAL AND SATELLITE IMAGES

THAT SHOW THE SCOPE AND THE PATH OF THE FLOOD.

THIS INFORMATION IS CRUCIAL FOR COMMUNITIES WHERE

FLOOD FORECASTS CAN MEAN LIFE OR DEATH.

Tom Graziano: THAT IS HOW THE USGS DATA WAS USED

DURING THIS FLOOD, IN FACT, WE WORKED VERY CLOSELY

WITH THE USGS, NOT ONLY IN THIS FLOOD, BUT ON ALL FLOODS.

ON A ROUTINE, ON A DAILY BASIS THERE IS COORDINATION

AND COLLABORATION BETWEEN USGS SCIENCE CENTERS, OUR

RIVER FORECAST CENTERS AND WEATHER FORECAST OFFICES

IN THE WEATHER SERVICE. THEY OFTEN TIMES GO OUT IN THE

MIDST OF A FLOOD TO TAKE ADDITIONAL OBSERVATIONS, WHICH

ARE CRITICAL TO GETTING THE FORECAST RIGHT. THEY DO

POST-STORM FLOOD ANALYSIS WHERE THEY GO OUT AND TAKE

HIGH WATER MARKS SO WE CAN ASSESS THE TRUE MEASURE OF A

PARTICULAR FLOOD, AND THEY UTILIZE THAT INFORMATION TO

EVEN DO A BETTER JOB OF FINE TUNING OUR MODELS SO FOR

ANY SUBSEQUENT FLOODS, THEY ARE EVEN THAT MUCH BETTER

CALIBRATED TO PROVIDE A MORE ACCURATE FORECAST IN THE FUTURE.

SO IT’S ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL THAT YOU HAVE HIGH

RESOLUTION, QUALITY INFORMATION, DATA BEING FED

IN TO YOUR MODEL LIKE THE DATA THAT WE GET, THE

STREAMGAGE DATA THAT WE GET FROM THE U. S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY.

Narrator: THE USGS ROUTINELY MONITORS AND

DOCUMENTS FLOODING AND PROVIDES THE STREAMFLOW

INFORMATION NEEDED FOR FLOOD FORECASTING AND LAND

USE DECISIONS TO MITIGATE FLOODS.

YET, THIS YEAR’S EFFORT WAS EXTRAORDINARY FOR

ITS SCOPE, INTENSITY, DURATION AND INNOVATIVE USE OF TECHNOLOGY.

THE USGS WORKED SIDE-BY-SIDE WITH THE ARMY CORPS

OF ENGINEERS AS THEY MADE DIFFICULT DECISIONS ABOUT

OPENING FLOOD-CONTROL RESERVOIRS, SPILLWAYS AND LEVEES

IN THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER BASIN.

Major General Walsh: AND THEN ALSO THEY HAD A

LOT OF THEIR MONITORING SYSTEM INSIDE THE FLOODWAY,

THEY HAD 47 MONITORING STATIONS INSIDE THE FLOODWAY

BEFORE WE EVEN OPERATED. SO THEY WERE THERE EVEN

BEFORE I ASKED THEM TO BE THERE, THEY KNEW WHAT WAS

GOING TO HAPPEN AND THEY WERE RIGHT ON THE SPOT. THE

SCIENCE THAT WE GOT FROM THE USGS WAS EXACTLY WHAT I

NEEDED TO MAKE THE DECISIONS THAT I HAD TO MAKE. I’M

LOOKING FORWARD TO WORKING WITH THE USGS NOW, AND INTO THE FUTURE.

Narrator: RUSHING WATERS FROM INTENTIONAL LEVEE

BREACHES AND SPILLWAY OPENINGS CREATED SAFETY CONCERNS

FOR NAVIGATION ALONG THE MISSISSIPPI. RIVER CURRENTS

WERE MAPPED BY USGS BEFORE AND AFTER ACTIVATION OF THE

FLOODWAY. THIS INFORMATION ALLOWED THE COAST GUARD TO

ADVISE ABOUT NAVIGATIONAL CHANGES AND RIVER CURRENTS TO AVOID.

Bob Holmes: SO OUR USGS FIELD CREWS WERE OUT

THERE MAKING THOSE MEASUREMENTS ON A DAILY BASIS

TO GIVE THEM REAL-TIME DATA AS TO EXACTLY WHAT WAS

COMING THROUGH THOSE SPILLWAYS.

Narrator: RECORD FLOODING OCCURRED IN THE WEST

CONTINUOUSLY FOR MONTHS IN 2011 DUE TO EXTREME

SPRING PRECIPITATION, COMPOUNDED BY SNOWPACK IN

THE MOUNTAINS. CONDITIONS BECAME UNSAFE AND EVACUATIONS WERE NECESSARY.

Bob Holmes: I THINK THIS IS AN UNPRECEDENTED

RESPONSE FROM THE USGS IN TERMS OF THE NUMBER

OF PEOPLE WE HAD OUT THERE AND THE AMOUNT OF

DATA THAT WE COLLECTED; IT WAS SO USEFUL TO SO

MANY ASPECTS; EVERYTHING FROM THE YAZOO LEVEE

DISTRICT WAS USING OUR DATA WHERE WE WERE MEASURING

VELOCITY AROUND THEIR LEVEES, THEY WERE WORRIED ABOUT

EROSION OF THE LEVEES DOWN IN MISSISSIPPI, TO THE STUFF

WE WERE DOING AT NEW MADRID IN SUPPORT OF THE CORPS OF

ENGINEERS THAT WAS SO CRUCIAL TO THE THINGS THAT WE ARE

DOING UP ON THE MISSOURI RIVER IN SUPPORT OF THE STATE

DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATIONS LOOKING AT SCOUR AROUND

THE BRIDGES AND MAKING SURE THAT THOSE STRUCTURES ARE

SAFE; AND WE’RE DOING ASSESSMENTS, WE HAVE MULTI-BEAM

SONAR UNITS THAT WE USE ON OUR BOATS, AND WE ARE ABLE TO

GO IN AND VERY DETAILED MAP THE BED. SO THE QUALITY OF

DATA THAT WE’RE COLLECTING AND THE AMOUNT OF DATA THAT’S

USEFUL TO SO MANY OTHER PARTIES, IT’S KIND OF UNPRECEDENTED

IN THIS FLOOD.

Narrator: AS WE MOVE INTO THE FUTURE, THE USGS IS

DEDICATED TO FINDING NEW WAYS TO REDUCE THE VULNERABILITY

OF PEOPLE AND COMMUNITIES MOST AT RISK FROM FLOODING. FOR

EXAMPLE, THE USGS AND PARTNERS ARE WORKING TO DEVELOP FLOOD

INUNDATION MAPS. THESE ARE DIGITAL MAP LIBRARIES THAT SHOW

THE EXTENT AND DEPTH OF FLOOD WATERS FOR ANY RIVER STAGE

FLOODS REMAIN ONE OF THE MOST COSTLY NATURAL DISASTERS IN

THIS COUNTRY. BUT WITH THE USGS NETWORK OF OVER 7,000

REAL-TIME MONITORING STATIONS ACROSS THE UNITED STATES

AND ITS ABILITY TO MOBILIZE SCIENTISTS DURING FLOOD EVENTS,

PROGRESS IS BEING MADE TOWARD MAKING COMMUNITIES

SAFER AND MORE RESILIENT. TO MAKE SMART DECISIONS

ABOUT FLOOD PREPAREDNESS AND RESPONSE, WE MUST START WITH SCIENCE.

CREDITS

Producer: Don Becker

Writers: Anne-Berry Wade, Kara Capelli, Jessica Robertson

Narrator: Debbie Grattan

Camera Credits:

Special Thank you:

END OF TRANSCRIPT.