Early Flood Prediction Gets a Boost from Space

Researchers have figured out a new way to predict which rivers are most at risk of dangerous flooding. To do so, they measured how much water was stored in a river basin months ahead of the spring flood season. "Just like a bucket can only hold so much water, the same concept applies to river basins," said lead study author J.T. Reager, an earth scientist.
When the ground is saturated, or filled to its brim, conditions are ripe for flooding. Reager and his colleagues looked back in time using satellite data, and measured how much water was soaking the ground before the 2011 Missouri River floods. The researchers found their statistical model strongly predicted this major flood event five months in advance. With less reliability, the prediction could be extended to 11 months in advance, the researchers said.
"This gives the background on what’s on the ground before the rain even gets there," Reager said. The 2011 Missouri River floods lasted for months, closing interstates, shutting down nuclear plants and scouring farmland. The National Weather Service issued flood alerts in April, a month before flooding began. Reager hopes his new method will eventually help forecasters prepare reliable flood warnings several months earlier. "It would be amazing if this could have a positive effect and potentially save lives," he said.