USGS Offers New Emergency Backup for Flood Forecast Data

WASHINGTON, DC, June 4, 2008 (ENS) – The U.S. Geological Survey, USGS, is better prepared to help protect the public this hurricane season than in the past by ensuring that emergency managers have quick storm-proof access to critical water information.

A new downlink backup system located in South Dakota guarantees the availability of streamflow information from more than 7,000 USGS streamgages across the nation.

The backup system would kick in if the current downlink system in Virginia is damaged during a storm, insuring that emergency managers have uninterrupted access to the information they need.

Information about stream flows is critical to making informed decisions about flood and storm response activities before, during and after a hurricane.

In cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal, state and local agencies, the USGS operates a streamgage network that provides up-to-the-minute data that is critical in order to issue flood warnings and community evacuations.

USGS streamgage and workboat on Indiana’s
Beaver Creek during flooding March
2008. (Photo courtesy USGS)

One of the most important measures for flood forecasts is streamflow, also called discharge. The discharge of the river is the volume of water that passes the streamgage every second, measured in cubic feet per second.

“We could not accurately forecast river flows and water-levels without the data and support we receive from the USGS,” said Dave Reed, the hydrologist in charge of the National Weather Service Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center in Slidell, Louisiana.

“When river and tide data are not available, our job of forecasting is much more difficult and typically results in diminished accuracy of those forecasts,” Reed said.

Real-time water data from the streamgage network is transmitted to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s GOES satellite. The satellite then relays the transmissions to various satellite downlinks.

The command-and-data acquisition station at Wallops Island, Virginia is the most critical downlink because it is the only one to receive all of the transmissions. But since this station is located near the coast and is only about 15 feet above sea level, it is vulnerable to hurricanes and other storms.

To ensure the continuity of continuous critical data in real time, the USGS, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, and other agencies have partnered to establish an emergency satellite data acquisition and dissemination unit at the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

EROS opened in the early 1970s with a handful of employees and the largest mainframe computer in the state of South Dakota. The center now houses one of the largest computer complexes in the Department of the Interior and keeps some 600 government and contractor employees busy.

Real-time information on flooding from hurricanes as well as other causes is always available on the USGS website at:

For direct access to USGS’ hurricane-related efforts, visit USGS Science: Before, During and After the Storm [].

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