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Energy & Environment

Hurricane Matthew Tests New Flood Forecasting System

With Hurricane Matthew unleashing heavy rains on Florida, we wanted to get an update on a new, flood forecasting system we told you about back in April.

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As Hurricane Matthew approached Florida, researchers were anxious to see how a new flood forecasting system would work. We reported on the new system after the Tax Day Flood hit Houston. It uses a supercomputer and is called the National Water Model.

"We started seeing some of the impacts of that hurricane landfall in these forecasts from the National Water Model," says David Gochis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado.

Gochis helped develop the new system which just went online in August. Gochis says early indications are encouraging as the system began forecasting — days ago — how Matthew would impact waterways in Florida.

The National Water Model is designed to predict flooding with street-by-street accuracy. It does that by gathering real time data on rainfall amounts to predict flooding at over 2 million locations nationwide; in the Houston area alone, at 875 locations.

But Gochis says the model's output is still pretty raw and not ready yet for use by local weather people.

"It's going to happen, it's just going to take time to get to that level of skill and confidence," Gochis says.

Scientists are watching how the model does predicting high water from Hurricane Matthew as they continue to fine-tune what could revolutionize flood forecasting in the future.