Irene: NYC agency pays to push new flood forecast system

A $1 million contribution from New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection will help spee

A $1 million contribution from New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection will help speed up the completion of a new system expected to give forecasters and emergency management officials a better idea of how bad flooding might get.

The DEP, which manages the city’s water supply, will pay for additional staff to help the National Weather Service complete its “hydrologic ensemble forecast service” next year.

The system has been under development for several years, according to a news release issued Thursday. It’s scheduled to be completed nationwide in late 2014, but financial support from the DEP will get the system running locally by 2013.

The service will provide forecasters with more information to determine the possible range of water levels in rivers and streams, improving the assessment of risk to communities in the city’s watershed, according to the release. It’s not an “end all-do all” system, said Hugh Johnson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Albany office, but the system will improve the information forecasters are able to provide to emergency officials and the public as it relates to how high rivers and creeks may rise during storm events.

Schoharie County Emergency Management Director Colleen Fullford said any improvement in forecasting will be a benefit to those in the Schoharie Valley, which makes up part of the city’s watershed. The system will include the Gilboa Dam, which blocks the Schoharie Creek, and the Schoharie Reservoir, which the dam holds back.

“It would be good for us,” Fullford said.

She said emergency officials were getting information from the National Weather Service that didn’t match up with what the River Forecast Center was reporting. At one point, there was talk that water levels were no longer rising, when gauges that monitor stream levels were actually out of commission, she said.

HEFS will be an important part of the DEP’s “operations support tool,” described in the release as a $5.2 million monitoring and modeling system. The OST system will collect real-time data on stream flow, water quality and reservoir storage levels and integrate forecasts on future inflows, according to the DEP.

It will give the DEP advance warning and the ability to release water when necessary, while helping the agency to make decisions that can improve the quality of the drinking water that’s piped down to New York City.

DEP money will pay for staff to accelerate the system’s development at two offices that cover the city’s water supply region: the Middle-Atlantic River Forecast Center in State College, Pa., and the Northeast River Forecast Center in Taunton, Mass.

“Effective partnerships with state and local government play a big role in our vision for a Weather-Ready Nation, and our agreement with NYCDEP is a great example,” National Weather Service Director Jack Hayes said in the release.

“With NYCDEP’s help accelerating our schedule, we can improve our warnings for events that threaten lives and livelihoods and give sophisticated users, like DEP, the forecasts they need to optimize their water resources decisions,” Hayes said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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