Friday, January 9, 2015

Let's Talk Science! Rain gages give warning for flash flooding

The largest wildfire in Washington state history ripped through the land and communities of Okanogan County last summer. Our hearts cried out for the people caught in the firestorm.

As if fire wasn't enough, the loss of vegetation left the landscape at risk for flash floods and debris flows. The first floods came, waging destruction to the already-torn community and threatening lives. Without a means to know when flash floods might come, locals were left in danger.

Our scientists to the rescue!

Scientists from our Environmental Assessment Program were asked to join a local, state, and federal partnership to install 17 emergency real-time rain gages in the burn area.

A rain gage measures rainfall as it happens. These tools collect data and send it to the National Weather Service. That information makes it possible for local authorities to be warned ahead of time of any possible flash flooding and debris flows. They can then warn neighboring residents if there is any danger.

See the team at work installing the rain gages and learn how they work in this video:

Rain Gages for the Carlton Complex Fires

Before our scientists helped install these rain gages, it was difficult to know when heavy rains might lead to flooding. There was little equipment and radar coverage was limited in the area impacted by wildfire. 

How does it work?

The rain gage is a high tech cup on a post that measures rain. The gage scans for rain every five minutes and sends that data through a radio antenna to a satellite every hour. Each rain gage is powered by it's own 20 to 30 watt solar panel. 

See the science for yourself

You can go online and view the real-time rain gage data from this project yourself. Visit the Flow Monitoring Network on our website and click the map for more information about each station. The video above gives a full tutorial about accessing the data of each new rain gage.

The National Weather Service also shares the data from these rain gages in a detailed topographic map on their website. 

Let's Talk Science

Jazzed about science? Check out our Let's Talk Science blog series for science news and entertaining stories about our scientists. Learn about complex issues, meet our scientists, and get to know the cool technical work we're conducting behind the scenes to monitor, understand, and protect our environment every day. 

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