The director of the National Weather Service praised the University of Iowa's groundbreaking flood prediction research, saying Wednesday it is helping make communities better prepared.
Director Louis Uccellini called the Iowa Flood Center "a tremendous resource" from which federal officials hope to learn. He said the center's researchers are conducting important work that will help inform efforts to create a new model to predict floods across the country — work that will be done at the new National Water Center in Alabama.
"We're very interested in what's going on here locally as the Iowa Flood Center advances this whole capability," Uccellini told The Associated Press after delivering a speech to about 100 people in a hotel ballroom.
Iowa Flood Center officials invited Uccellini to visit Iowa City as part of their longstanding push to gain recognition and funding as the first national research center to focus on flooding. Uccellini said he would like to partner with the center — noting the agency's local offices already rely on its work — but made no specific promises.
Formed in 2009 after flooding devastated the campus and nearby areas the prior year, the Iowa center has built and deployed a network of sensors to monitor conditions on the state's streams and rivers. The data is fed to the center's Iowa Flood Information System, an online application where users can see flooding conditions and projections for local waterways in real-time. Community leaders praise the center's work, which also includes updating flood plain maps across Iowa.
Uccellini said the center's stream gages were particularly important, as they supplemented those operated by the U.S. Geological Survey and help fill "a really big gap" in existing flood prediction work.
Center officials say they want the National Weather Service to consider adopting its technology, which includes a computer model that predicts how water travels through communities during different flooding scenarios.
"That may be a decade away for the Weather Service, but that is happening today in Iowa. That system exists," said Larry Weber, the center's co-founder. "They've talked about going to high-performance computing. We're already doing that. We'd like for that model in Iowa to become the model for the nation, or at least the building block for the nation."
Weber said he would like the weather service's parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to recognize the Iowa Flood Center as an academic partner. He said the center would like to work with the NOAA's National Water Center at the University of Alabama, which opened earlier this year and will focus on everything from flooding to droughts.
Weber said funding from the federal government would help the Iowa center, which has received about $30 million in state funding and grants, expand its work to the rest of the country.
U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, a Democrat who lives in Iowa City, has pushed unsuccessfully for legislation since 2011 to create a National Flood Center that he hopes would be housed there.
Weber said tight budgets among federal agencies and a reluctance to fund new programs were hurdles. But he said the center still hoped for a "meaningful relationship" with the National Water Center.
"Meaningful to me would be defined by funding," he said.