Equipment deployed to study the impact of burn scars, flash flooding

NSSL’s mobile radar in Colorado near the burn scar. (Photo provided.)

To find ways to better protect people from flash floods, researchers are spending this summer testing equipment and evaluating methods of observing rain and flash-flood prone areas of Colorado.

Researchers from NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory and the University of Oklahoma Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies are utilizing a suite of tools, including NSSL’s mobile Doppler radar in an effort to gather new observations on rain. From June through September, researchers are gathering new observations in parts of Colorado that were affected by the 2018 Spring Creek wildfire, Colorado’s third-largest wildfire which burned 108,045 acres of land.

“Federal and state partners have teamed up to provide, for the first time, a very dense observational network on the Spring Creek burn scar in Colorado,” said Jonathan Gourley, an NSSL Researcher. “In addition to the deployment of NSSL’s mobile radar, the experimental network is comprised of rain gauges, stream radars, surface velocity measurements, and soil moisture sensors, all positioned within the burn scar.”

The scientists chose these locations because areas that are burned by wildfires are more susceptible to flash flooding and debris flows, as burned soil tends to repel, rather than absorb, water. Researchers want to demonstrate the value of observations gathered by this equipment  to develop early alerts of flash flooding and debris flows on burn scars.

From June through September, researchers are gathering new observations in parts of Colorado that were affected by the 2018 Spring Creek wildfire, Colorado’s third-largest wildfire which burned 108,045 acres of land. (Photo provided)

“Burn scars are prolific at producing flash floods,” Gourley said. “The loss of vegetation and changes to the soil structure enhances the amount and velocity of runoff for a given rainfall event. Despite their devastating impacts, we have limited knowledge about the transition of rainfall-to-runoff and the tools used to forecast flash flooding on burn scars.”

The mobile radar is deployed less than 20 miles from the burn area. Researchers are using the mobile radar to monitor the lower atmosphere and supplement current NEXRAD radar coverage. The terrain in mountainous areas, like Colorado, causes difficulties for NEXRAD radars. The radar beam cannot “see” storms as it can in flatter areas, like the plains. NSSL’s mobile radar supplements NEXRAD coverage by providing more information near the ground and providing higher-resolution data for forecasters during intense rainfall events near the burn scar.

“These observations will transform our understanding and forecasting tools, which are becoming increasingly important given the expanding areas, durations, and intensities with wildfires,” Gourley said.

So far, the observations have been promising. In July, a major storm  near La Veta brought more than 1.5 inches of rain per hour and local officials provided eight reports of flash flooding. One creek overflowed by two feet and was more than 100-yards wide. Researchers collaborated with National Weather Service forecasters to provide more products and information for increased warning time.

Researchers are also testing a product that computes rainfall accumulations at 15, 30 and 60-minute time periods and compares those accumulations to United States Geological Survey-derived debris flow thresholds for the same time period. It is one of many products developed and utilized by researchers to study flooding and debris flow in areas ravaged by wildfires. 

Known as the “Wildfire Rain” product, this algorithm utilizes short-term rainfall estimation techniques to provide forecasts of how fast rain may fall and whether it is anticipated to cause flash flooding and debris flows on the burn scars. This experimental tool is used by three local NWS Colorado forecast offices and allows a longer lead time for flash flooding events.

In addition to the Wildfire Rain product, this summer researchers deployed a network of rain gauges, soil moisture sensors and stream radars in Colorado. The stream radars use remote sensing to measure the speed, depth, and flow rates in streams. These products provide on-the-ground validation of flooding at points of interest like bridges and roadways.

Monitoring efforts will continue through 2020 as researchers continue to develop ways to monitor and warn for flash flooding and debris flow.

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Gab at the Lab: Kodi Nemunaitis-Monroe

Kodi Nemunaitis-Monroe, NOAA Sea Grant Weather & Climate Extension Specialist    (OU CIMMS)


Background:B.S. Meteorology, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2001
M.S. Meteorology, University of Oklahoma
Ph.D., Meteorology, University of Oklahoma, 2014
What She Does: Kodi oversees NOAA’s Coastal and Inland Flooding Observation and Warning (CI-FLOW) project. This research is aimed at predicting total water levels (rainfall + river flows + waves + tides + storm surge) in watershed coastal regions. More than half of the nation’s population is affected by coastal flooding, and CI-FLOW aims to reduce impacts to life and property. As storms approach, National Weather Service forecasters provide feedback on how well the CI-FLOW system performs.
Favorite Things: Spending time with her daughter, watching “House of Cards” and “Sherlock”
Trivia:At the University of Nebraska, she was a cheerleader for the Cornhuskers!
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Hydrometeorological Testbed 2015

During the week of July 20-24, six forecasters from NWS offices nationwide joined NSSL and CIMMS researchers for the final week of the Hydrometeorological Testbed. This project was supported by JJ Gourley, Steve Martinaitis, Race Clark and Zac Flamig.



During the week, the forecasters issued experimental watches and warnings for hydrologic extremes in real-time, with the objective of improving flash flood guidance. This project leveraged opportunities for collaboration with two other NSSL research programs, the Severe Hazards Analysis and Verification Experiment (SHAVE) and the Meteorological Phenomenon Identification Near the Ground (mPING).



The purpose of the HMT was to evaluate the skills of the NSSL-designed FLASH suite of products in flash flood forecasting and, ultimately, to enhance understanding of short-term flash flood forecasting challenges. The meteorologists shared their findings in a “Tales from the Testbed” teleconference held at the end of the week, highlighting the difficulties and successes they encountered when applying FLASH products in various weather scenarios. Notably, they found that it is beneficial to have soil moisture products available when considering flash flood watch and warning issuance. Overall, they determined the new FLASH products to be an improvement in operational capabilities that will lead to more accurate and timely decision-making.






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NSSL researchers lead project to evaluate experimental flash flood products

DSC_0052During July, NOAA National Weather Service forecasters from forecast offices and river forecast centers will assess emerging hydrometeorological concepts and products in the Multi-Radar / Multi-Sensor (MRMS) Hydro Experiment 2015. Their goal is to improve the accuracy, timing, and specificity of flash flood watches and warnings.

MRMS-Hydro is led by NSSL and is part of the 2015 United States Weather Research Program (USWRP) Hydrometeorological Testbed (HMT). Operational activities will take place Monday through Friday for three weeks (July 6 to 24).

During the experiment, participating forecasters will evaluate short-term predictive tools derived from MRMS quantitative precipitation estimates (QPE) and Flooded Locations and Simulated Hydrographs (FLASH) hydrologic modeling framework. Forecasters will also explore the utility of experimental watch and warning products conveying uncertainty and magnitude issued through the Hazard Services software from the Earth Systems Research Lab/Global Systems Division (GSD). Research scientists will investigate human factors to determine operationally relevant best practices for the warning decision making process and the system usability of the Hazard Services platform.

HMT-Hydro will coordinate operations with the third annual Flash Flood and Intense Rainfall experiment (FFaIR) at the NOAA/NWS Weather Prediction Center (WPC) to simulate the collaboration that occurs between the National Weather Service’s national centers, river forecast centers, and local forecast offices during flash flood events.

HMT-Hydro and FFaIR will simulate the real-time workflow from WPC 6-24 hour forecast and guidance products to experimental flash flood watches and warnings issued in the 0-6 hour period. The HMT-hydro team will shift its area of responsibility on a daily basis to where heavy precipitation events and associated flash flooding is anticipated.

Researchers will collect feedback from NWS operational forecasters through comments during their shifts, electronic surveys, de-briefings, and a webinar at the end of each week. NWS feedback is critical for future development and eventual implementation of new applications, displays, and product concepts into AWIPS2 and other operational systems.
HMT-Hydro 2015 provides a real-time environment to rapidly test the latest observational and modeling capabilities so they may be improved and optimized for transition to operational decision-making in the National Weather Service to support a Weather-Ready Nation.

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Experimental flash flood forecasting system tested by Texas rain event

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 10.13.41 AMRecent flooding in Texas and Oklahoma put NSSL’s experimental Multiple Radar Multiple Sensor (MRMS) Flooded Locations and Simulated Hydrograph (MRMS-FLASH) system to a rigorous test, and researchers were pleased.

The real-time MRMS-FLASH hydrologic modeling suite produces forecasts of flash flooding that are compared to historical simulations that use more than a decade of NEXRAD-based inputs at each 1km grid point. On May 25, the City of Houston, Texas, experienced deadly flash flooding. For this event, FLASH predicted extreme water flows out to six hours in advance.

The Coupled Routing and Excess Storage (CREST) distributed hydrologic model, also a part of the MRMS-FLASH modeling suite, generates maps of streamflow and unit streamflow (cubic meters per second per square kilometer) every 15 minutes. Comparisons between the observations of flash flooding in Houston and the maps of unit streamflow show a good correspondence between areas of high unit streamflows and flash flooding.

The FLASH model represents surfaces that do not absorb water, such as in urban zones, and is able to model dynamic soil moisture conditions, and how water will be routed downstream. MRMS-FLASH has run in real-time demonstration mode for several years.

NSSL’s MRMS-FLASH system provides information and services to make communities more resilient, focusing on enhanced water forecasting and delivery services, and also helps support the NWS to evolve its operations.

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FLOCAST: Flood Observations – Citizens As Scientists using Technology project

mPING mPING floodNSSL, CIMMS and University of Oklahoma researchers have launched a new project to collect public observations of flooding that will help improve flash-flood prediction and warning tools in the US.

The Flood Observations – Citizens As Scientists using Technology project (FLOCAST) will first use crowdsourced data about flooding and its severity collected through the already successful mPING (meteorological Phenomena Identification Near the Ground) app available on smart phones. Crowdsourced reports have the potential to provide a large and independent database flood events at fine spatial resolution.

The FLOCAST team will then target the local emergency management community, who tend to provide the most accurate and detailed reports of flooding, and ask them to respond to a 5-minute web-based questionnaire. As time permits, participants will provide details of the timing and location of flash flooding impacts in their areas of responsibility shortly following the event. They will also be able to submit a photo documenting the flooding event.

This same group of expert witnesses will be asked to identify victims, those directly impacted by the flooding, to volunteer their participation in a telephone interview. Researchers will use the information to better understand how society perceives, behaves and responds during flash-flood events, and improve the design, utility, and communication of information about impending flash floods to reduce loss of life.


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CI-FLOW total water level system prepared for test by hurricane

Forecast track for Hurricane Irene
Forecast track for Hurricane Irene as of 8:00 EDT 8/24/11

Researchers with the Coastal and Inland Flooding Observation and Warning (CI-FLOW) project are preparing for Hurricane Irene to test their total water level prediction system in North Carolina later this week. The CI-FLOW system captures the complex interaction between waves, tides, river flows and storm surge to produce total water level simulations that will improve forecasts for inland and coastal flooding events to help users react, respond, and recover.

The CI-FLOW system is currently focused on the Tar-Pamlico and Neuse river basins of North Carolina but the goal is to transition CI-FLOW research and technologies to other U.S. coastal watersheds.

The CI-FLOW computing environment routinely collects weather, river, tide and ocean observations to be used in an interactive exchange between atmospheric, river and ocean models.

The CI-FLOW project addresses a critical NOAA service gap:  routine total water level predictions for tidally-influenced watersheds and has a vision to transition CI-FLOW research findings and technologies to other U.S. coastal watersheds. This real-time demonstration will offer valuable insight on the accuracy and utility of total water level predictions for communities in the coastal plain of the Tar-Pamlico and Neuse Rivers and the Pamlico Sound.

CI-FLOW’s unique interdisciplinary team is lead by the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory and includes North Carolina, South Carolina, & Texas Sea Grant Programs, National Sea Grant, Renaissance Computing Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Oklahoma, NWS Offices in Raleigh & Newport/Morehead City, NWS Southeast River Forecast Center, NOAA Coastal Services Center, NOAA in the Carolinas, Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence SouthEast, NWS Office of Hydrologic Development, and National Ocean Service Coast Survey Development Laboratory.

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Video released on improved flood forecasting with CI-FLOW

CI-FLOW video on NOAA Weather Partners YouTube site.

The collaborative Coastal and Inland-Flooding Observation and Warning Project (CI-FLOW) released a new video demonstrating how their prototype total water level simulation system can help improve NWS flood forecasting and save lives of people residing and working in coastal watersheds.

The video can be seen at:

“CI-FLOW tracks a raindrop from the sky, to the summit, to the sea,” explains Dr. Suzanne Van Cooten, hydrometeorologist working at NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL).

Currently, there is no framework that exchanges information between atmospheric, river, and ocean modeling systems to help forecasters predict the individual elements of a coastal storm including precipitation, ocean waves, tidal fluctuations, storm surge and river flows.

This problem is being addressed by the CI-FLOW project with a prototype system to integrate these different modeling systems to produce total water level simulations that account for river flow, tides, waves, and storm surge for coastal North Carolina.

In the video, Former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt described what it was like when Hurricane Floyd hit the coast of North Carolina in 1999.

“We were used to thinking about a hurricane being a wind event.  We had no idea we were going to have a flood,” he reflected.  “We weren’t able to predict it.  We didn’t know that water was going to be coming in up the rivers, we didn’t know how much rain was falling.”

As a hurricane approaches the land, heavy rainfall covers the area.  Excessive run off causes rivers to rise.  Fierce winds can push ocean water upstream.  When rivers meet the ocean waters, massive flooding can occur.  CI-FLOW is intended to help communities become more resilient by providing information to help individuals make better decisions so they can respond and recover from the hazards of local storms.

CI-FLOW researchers hope to give the integrated total water level prediction system its first real-time test during the 2010 hurricane season, and will watch with interest as NOAA updates the Atlantic hurricane season outlook this Thursday. This scheduled update coincides with the approaching historical peak of the hurricane season.

NOAA, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas Sea Grant Programs, University of Oklahoma, and Centers for Ocean Sciences Educational Excellence Southeast were sponsors of the video project.  NOAA NSSL leads the interdisciplinary multi-institutional team of CI-FLOW researchers.

Visit for more information.

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