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Iowa Flood Center Developing Tool To Help Missouri River Communities Prepare For Flooding

Katie Peikes
IPR file
The Iowa Flood Center's Larry Weber said the flood forecasting technology uses mathematical models that will take information about rainfall in the region from the National Weather Service to calculate how much water will run off into rivers and streams.

Iowa scientists are developing a tool to forecast Missouri River flooding and how wide it could spread out across the floodplain, to better prepare people for floods with more accessible information.

Two years ago, people in the Missouri River floodplain had little information about how the flooding would affect them and their property. The flooding from the Missouri River and its tributaries resulted from heavy spring rains, a rapid warm-up, snowmelt and frozen ground which was more difficult to forecast and harder for people to prepare for.

“At the time, they were hungry for information,” said Iowa Flood Center co-founder Larry Weber. “And they were getting all they could from the [National] Weather Service and the Corps of Engineers.”

So, more than a year after the spring 2019 flooding, the Iowa Flood Center got to work. The National Weather Service forecasts how high the river will rise, but the Iowa Flood Center sought to create something that would show how wide the river could extend into the floodplain as well as how deep the water could be at individual properties. The technology is similar to the Iowa Flood Information System, which the flood center uses for smaller rivers in Iowa.

Weber said the center’s Missouri River Flood Forecast and Information System, a simulation tool, will have more “relevant” real-time information online for individual land or business owners along the Missouri River from Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota to St. Joseph, Missouri.

“Our forecast system will provide that very specific home by home, business by business, farm by farm depth of water at the time of a levee breach or levee overtopping,” Weber said.

Weber said the technology uses “fairly sophisticated mathematical models” that will take information about rainfall in the region from the National Weather Service to calculate how much water will run off into rivers and streams. It will also calculate how fast the runoff will move through the river. The Iowa Flood Center is integrating the tech with Google Maps to show the landscape.

“The weather service … it primarily does its forecasting for major forecast locations along the river, which in some cases may be many miles away from an individual's personal property,” Weber said. “So having this very place-based, map-based [system] … you can zoom in, move around, pan around, go to your exact home, go to your community.”

Weber said the project should be finished by the end of the year. He’ll show off a beta version at meetings this week in southwest Iowa, in Hamburg and Pacific Junction. Architecture firm BNIM Consultants will also be at these meetings to present some planning projects on flood protection and community development.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.