Science: Predicting The Future, Saving Lives

2019-08-28T16:51:42+00:00 October 2, 2017|

What It Was

The United States Geological Survey (USGS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and partners, in conjunction with Senators Shelley Moore Capito (WV) and Bill Nelson (FL) hosted a briefing, “How Science Supports Flood  Forecasting and Public Safety.”

 Why It Matters

No matter where you live, it’s likely that flooding can affect you. Science and technology improve our predictions and responses to these events, such as in the case of Hurricane Harvey.

 Key Points

Panelists described how using science and technology through cross-agency collaboration helped them predict and respond to flooding from Hurricane Harvey. Flood forecasting is complex because it involves meteorological (rainfall) and hydrological (current stream, lake, or dam conditions) data to accurately predict where the water will go and the impact it will have on a given area.

USGS maintains over 8,000 data collectors (streamgages) that monitor stream flow and water level, and the data are available real-time thanks to NOAA satellites. During flood events, temporary data collectors can be quickly deployed –more than 300 were installed to monitor Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

Extreme rainfall from Hurricane Harvey tested emergency management abilities at the state and federal level. Texas Department of Emergency Management quickly realized they needed help and contacted NOAA’s National Weather Service to aid in creating a real-time flood model for predictions.

Mr. Steve Fitzgerald (Chief Engineer, Harris County Flood Control District), reported that the 10-day advance warning was widely used and saved many lives – the real measure of success of flood predictions.


“Every county in the U.S. gets hit by floods at one point or another, and we are trying to do something about that.” – Dr. Don Cline (Associate Director for Water Resources, USGS).

“We were able to make recommendations on what citizens should do, and thankfully almost everyone did it.” – Mr. Steve Fitzgerald (Chief Engineer, Harris County Flood Control District and President, National Hydrological Warning Council).

“We needed to know more about our state and regional flooding than we did at the time, and having a real-time flood model was critical.” – Mr. David Maidment (Chair; Civil Engineering, University of Texas at Austin).

“USGS and NOAA are key agencies in protecting lives, property, and environment. Engineers and scientists rely on [these agencies] standards, data, and expertise. Please, please, maintain federal funding for these important agencies.” – Mr. Steve Fitzgerald (Chief Engineer, Harris County Flood Control District).

 Find Out More

United States Geological Survey Hurricane Coverage

United States Geological Survey Water

National Weather Service Inundation

National Weather Service Forecasting Overview

Related coverage from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership

Outdated Flood Maps Fuel Reform

FEMA Flood Insurance Program Underwater

A Flood Of Flood Insurance Bills Approved By House Committee

Weathering The Storm: How Can We Better Communicate Weather To Enhance Commerce And Safety?