Sep. 20, 2001 RALEIGH, NC. -- When a hurricane or severe storm hits North Carolina, South Carolina or Virginia - as Hurricane Floyd did in 1999 - weather forecasters now anticipate delivering more accurate flood and flash flood warnings.
Scientists are testing new advanced weather technology in a pilot program from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL), NOAA's National Sea Grant College Program and North Carolina and South Carolina Sea Grant state programs.
New software that utilizes Doppler radar data, satellite imagery and other information tools will monitor rainfall in watershed basins as small as one square kilometer.
National Weather Service (NWS) forecasters can use the data to issue more precise and accurate flood and flash flood warnings. Emergency management officials, utility companies and others can use data to better prepare for flood events.
With new technology, researchers hope to mitigate losses such as the tremendous damage caused by Hurricane Floyd. In North Carolina, for example, the statistics were staggering - 52 deaths, 7,000 homes destroyed, 17,000 uninhabitable homes and 57,000 homes damaged.
"This will help save lives and protect property," said North Carolina Sea Grant marine educator Lundie Spence, who was one of several Sea Grant representatives who visited NSSL last year in an effort to develop joint projects within the two NOAA agencies.
"If we can assist the local NWS Forecast Office with implementation of new technology that provides additional details about a severe storm system, specific amounts of rainfall and the type of precipitation, people will have more opportunity to prepare to evacuate areas," Spence added.
The project has two phases: collecting regional radar data in "real time" at a single location at Wilmington, N.C., and creating Web-based flash flood guidance software using real time radar data.
The regional or multi-state images, which will be available by late September, will combine raw data from several National Weather Service Doppler radars in coastal North and South Carolina and coastal southern Virginia.
Currently, each NWS office can only get Doppler radar data from one or two radars at a time," said Kevin Kelleher, deputy director of the National Severe Storms Lab in Norman, Okla.
"With this new technology, we will be able to provide regional, multi-radar images and forecast products using realtime Doppler data to NWS forecasters and emergency managers extending from coastal Georgia to Washington, D.C.," Kelleher added.
"The ability to receive multi-sensor estimates of accumulated rainfall for individual river basins should really be helpful in managing flood situations."
By December, the second phase of the project will be nearly complete. Data will be available on the World Wide Web to a variety of users, including weather forecasters, emergency management officials, mariners, scientists and commercial users in the power and agricultural sectors. The data will include information on the amount of rainfall that has fallen in each river basin and an indication of the likelihood that flooding will occur.
"Web-based data will include color maps that will help emergency management officials more quickly and accurately identify the areas at greatest risk for flood," said South Carolina Sea Grant extension program leader Robert Bacon. "For example, they can more effectively target areas for evacuation and position their response and recovery resources to assist flood victims."
The National Sea Grant Program is a university-based program that promotes the wise use and stewardship of coastal and marine resources through research, outreach and education.
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