UI Iowa Flood Center Develops Real-Time Flood Information System

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The Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa has developed a free online information system, the Missouri River Flood Information System, to help communities around the Missouri River assess flood risk around their homes. and their businesses.


The Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa has developed a highly interactive, near real-time system to help business owners, landlords, and farmers prepare for and prevent future flood risks.

The Missouri River Flood System, launched in December, is the culmination of already existing federal models and aims to alleviate the stress and uncertainty seen during two highly destructive floods along the Missouri River in the 2010s.

Larry Weber, co-founder of the Iowa Flood Center and lead researcher on the development of the project, said many people in affected communities said they knew the flood was coming, but not how much it would affect them.

“Millions or tens of millions of dollars in assets have been lost or damaged because the information just wasn’t good enough,” Weber said. “We felt we could do better.”

Weber said the information system was built on a Google Maps platform, allowing users to view projected water levels around their property or business. Weber said this increase in information translates into better individual preparedness in the event of a flood.

“They will automatically know for this flood that they need to protect their home from four feet or their business from six feet of water,” Weber said. “[They can] then make the appropriate decision to handle things.

Flooding in 2019 along parts of the Missouri River caused approximately $2 billion in crop damage to farms in Iowa. Weber said while protecting crops from these floods is difficult, other important things can be protected.

“We can protect personal well-being and life,” Weber said. “We can have businesses and industries that are better prepared for flooding.”

Daniel Gilles, water resources engineer from the Iowa Flood Center, participated in the development of the flood modeling used by the information system. He said developments in the technology and forecasting used in this system provide advanced insight into real-time flood forecasting.

Maps from the Iowa Flood Information System are currently curated, Gilles said, meaning the information was calculated in advance and manually fed into the system to calculate potential flooding.

He said the center hopes to reintegrate the real-time system developed for the project into the Iowa Flood Information System.

“At any point along a stream, you can tell that number of cubic feet per second of water is passing at that point in the river,” Gilles said. “We use it to simulate the water depth along these streams and then create maps of predicted river levels for the next ten days or so.”

Gilles said it was important to develop the information system due to the increasing uncertainty of floods and other natural events resulting from climate change.

“Just in the last few decades we have noticed changes in intensification of rainfall and more flooding,” Gilles said. “The 100-year flood is no longer the 100-year flood.”

The Iowa Flood Center’s development of this easily accessible representation of flood forecasts, Gilles said, was one of the first of its kind when the center developed the Iowa Flood Information System.

He hopes that the development of this Missouri River information system will lead to more widespread real-time public flood information systems across the country.

“We’re hoping to kind of expand on what we’ve done with this most recent project and push the bar [for other institutions] that much higher,” Gilles said.

Kate Giannini, Iowa Flood Center program and communications specialist, coordinated with external partners and grant administrators on this project.

“Our role was really to do flood forecasting and analyze flood risk, communicating that in an easy-to-use online format,” Giannini said. “My role is to coordinate with all partners involved and serve as a liaison between researchers and engineers here at the University of Iowa.”

BNIM is the company developing a comprehensive plan to work with organizations in affected areas, which will be released in late January, Giannini said.

She said the research and development conducted by the Iowa Flood Center helped guide many of the decision-making and goals set during BNIM’s outreach to communities such as Hamburg and Pacific Junction in Iowa.

“Our role was really integrated into their work,” Giannini said. “All of this work that the Flood Center team and researchers and engineers have done informs goals and strategies for the future.”

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