Iowa Flood Center Working on Better Flood Forecasts

By Brady Smith, Reporter

The Cedar River flows through downtown Cedar Rapids on Sunday afternoon, June 2, 2013 after its early-morning crest of 18.23 feet. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)


By Brady Smith

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Researchers at the Iowa Flood Center are working on measuring the accuracy of their precipitation forecasts. They use a few different meteorological models for their predictions.

Assistant Professor Gabriele Villarini uses them to get an idea of how much precipitation will fall in Iowa over the next 12 months.

This spring, he expects one similar to last year, though not as extreme.

“It’s going to be wetter than what we’ve been experiencing on average over the past 30 years, but not as wet as it was in 2013 or 2008,” Villarini said.

Also similar to last year, the models show a drier-than average summer and fall. But how accurate these models are, Villarini said, is yet to be determined. He wants to find a way to quantify their accuracy, and hopes to be able to do that by this summer. However, he said while precipitation is a key ingredient of flooding, it doesn’t tell the whole story. The tricky part is getting his data to mesh with other sets of data being produced by the flood center.

He hopes to be able to get his precipitation outlooks to somehow integrate with the flood center’s short-term flood forecasts, to give Iowans more time to prepare for disasters.

“There is not yet a seamless transition between the 5-day discharge forecast, to the monthly rainfall forecast,” he said.

The goal is to start a monthly webinar with that information, this year.

“We are fine-tuning some of the messages we are sending out, so, what we want to show, how we want to present these elements in a nice, concise way,” Villarini explained. “The idea is to always push the boundaries.”

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