LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
While the Feb. 5 article "Flood data rides Internet wave" primarily examined how the U.S. Geological Survey used the Internet to distribute data about rising rivers, the article also discussed National Weather Service operations during recent East Coast flooding. What follows may help FCW readers better understand how the NWS provides our nation with accurate and timely weather and flooding information for the protection of life and property.
The NWS works in partnership with many federal agencies, including USGS. During severe weather events, the timeliness and integrity of information is critical. Therefore, the NWS obtains USGS river-gage data directly from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ground station at Wallops Island, Va., rather than through the Internet. In addition, the NWS uses other gage information collected via land-line and radio communication systems for a more complete picture of current conditions.
NWS hydrologists input variables such as rainfall, temperature, dew point, pressure and wind into highly complex hydrologic computer models that forecast the state of rivers and streams. For this particular event, the NWS computer models initially underestimated the unprecedented rate of snow melt. However, USGS' river-gage reading alerted our forecasters that their early flood-crest forecasts needed to be revised.
NWS partnerships are not limited to federal agencies. While the NWS provides communities with severe weather forecasts and warnings, local governments and emergency managers use this information to determine whether an evacuation is necessary. Local community officials, not the NWS, issue evacuation notices. Another equally important partner in weather events is the news media. The NWS and local officials rely on the media to give the public timely, life-saving information such as weather warnings, evacuation notices and community response information. As a result of these partners working together, the timely evacuation of residents in Harrisburg, Pa., living next to the Susquehanna River resulted without fatality.
Finally, the correct name of the organization where I work is the Hydrologic Information Center. This branch of the NWS Office of Hydrology creates the daily national flood summary and national hydrologic outlooks.
Readers wanting to learn more about the NWS and its operations may access the NWS home page at http://www.nws.noaa.gov.
Head, Hydrologic Information Center
National Weather Service