Cedar Rapids Gazette: UI Receives Grant to Develop Real-time Mapping of Flood Models

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

By James Q. Lynch
Des Moines Bureau

IOWA CITY — What difference would it have made if the University of Iowa had received a $399,955 National Science Foundation grant to do real-time rainfall mapping a year ago instead of this week?

“The short answer, the true answer: Very little,” said Witold Krajewski, professor of civil-environmental engineering at the University of Iowa IIHR-Hyrdoscience & Engineering.

While it would have been of little help preparing Iowans for the combination of spring runoff and rainfall that led to historic flooding on the Cedar and Iowa rivers in June 2008, Krajewski said the funding will make it possible for the center to tell Eastern Iowans what to expect when flooding threatens in the future.

“It will allow researchers to access weather radar data in real time and to create customized rainfall maps with a higher temporal and spatial resolution than maps created by the National Weather Service,” Krajewski said.

They will use the data in different ways than the weather service or TV weather reporters.

Although it will take time, the grant, announced by Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, will help Krajewski and his colleagues develop those capabilities. In addition to access to existing data, they plan to gather additional data by placing a variety of sensors throughout the region.

Population centers, like Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, will be the first targets.

Krajewski’s efforts are less about forecasting rain and more about forecasting the impact of rainfall and predicting what will happen once it is on the landscape. Last year, for example, rainfall in Eastern Iowa was just one component of the flooding. The aim is to create models of what will happen when local rainfall is added to water coming downstream from as far away as Minnesota.

By monitoring the progression of rainwater to a particular location, researchers will be able to predict where rivers will be out of their banks and how large of an area will be flooded, he said.

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