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NOAA debuts new flood-forecasting tool

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its partners developed a new forecasting tool.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its partners developed a new forecasting tool to simulate how water moves throughout the nation’s rivers and streams, paving the way for what the agency said is the biggest improvement in flood forecasting the country has ever seen.

Launched this month and run on NOAA’s new Cray XC40 supercomputer, the National Water Model uses data from more than 8,000 U.S. Geological Survey gauges to simulate conditions for 2.7 million locations in the contiguous United States.

The model generates hourly forecasts for the entire river network. Previously NOAA was only able to forecast stream flow for 4,000 locations every few hours.

The model also improves NOAA’s ability to meet the needs of its stakeholders — such as emergency managers, reservoir operators, first responders, recreationists, farmers, barge operators, and ecosystem and floodplain managers — with more accurate, detailed, frequent and expanded water information.

The nation has experienced a number of disastrous floods in recent years, including the ongoing flooding this week in Louisiana, accentuating the importance of more detailed water forecasts to help people prepare.

“With a changing climate, we’re experiencing more prolonged droughts and a greater frequency of record-breaking floods across the country, underscoring the nation’s need for expanded water information,” National Weather Service director Louis Uccellini said in a statement.

“The National Water Model will improve resiliency to water extremes in American communities. And as our forecasts get better, so will our planning and protection of life and property when there’s either too much water, too little or poor water quality.”

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