Iowa Flood Information System predicts economic damages of flooding

The Mississippi River in Dubuque is one of many in the state that is threatening to flood this spring. (Lesley G/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | May 10, 2018

Flooding has cost Iowa communities more than $18 billion in the last thirty years, and as the Mississippi and Cedar Rivers continue to swell this spring, Iowans may wonder how much they can expect to pay out on flood disasters in the future.

In recent years, scholars at the Iowa Flood Center have been working to predict just that. HAZUS, developed by the the Federal Emergency Management Agency, provides predictions of the economic impact various magnitudes and types of natural disasters might have across the United States. During 2017, Research Engineer and Assistant Professor Ibrahim Demir and graduate research assistant Enes Yildirim, combined HAZUS’ information on demographics, buildings and structural content with data from the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS).

As a result, IFIS now offers flood loss and economic damage estimations for twelve communities in the state. These include Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls,  Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Iowa City, Independence, Kalona, Monticello, Ottumwa, Rock Rapids, Rock Valley, and Waterloo. HAZUS’ model makes it possible for users to not only view the overall economic damages to a community but also how much in damages individual buildings can be expected to accrue.

Iowa Flood Center researchers are working to expand this predictive model to other parts of the state. For now, users can use the following guide to learn more about the financial consequences of flooding in any of the aforementioned communities.

First, users must visit Iowa Flood Information System website, then:

  1. Hover their cursor over the “Flood Maps” tab and find their community under the “Flood Map Scenarios for Communities” button.
  2. After clicking on the “Damage Estimate” button, users can toggle the “Flood Map Controller” to model different scenarios.

Iowa Flood Center featured in American Meteorological Association flagship publication

Iowa Flood Center’s Iowa Flood Information System was featured on the front page of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society this March. (Iowa Flood Center)
Jenna Ladd | May 5, 2017

The Iowa Flood Center was featured in the March 2017 edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, also known as BAMS.

BAMS is the flagship publication of the American Meteorological Society. The bulletin, which is released monthly, features scientific articles related to weather, water, and climate as well as news stories and editorials.

Witold Krajewski, the Iowa Flood Center’s director, is lead author on the article featured in BAMS. Titled “Real-Time Flood Forecasting and Information System for the State of Iowa,” the academic article provides a detailed understanding of the Iowa Flood Center’s (IFC) flood forecasting and information dissemination system.

IFC established the system following the record floods of 2008. Using scientific models and mathematical equations, the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS) is able to provide rainfall and streamflow forecasts every fifteen minutes. Iowans from over 1,000 communities can access these real-time observations using the interactive IFIS web platform.

Prior to the development of this system, floods frequently occurred without warning in Iowa, as they did in 2008. The report reads,

“Devastating floods that inundated Cedar Rapids came as a surprise, leaving residents and businesses little time to evacuate; residents of Iowa City and the University of Iowa campus watched helplessly as floods compromised more and more buildings after the Coralville Dam lost its controlled-release functionality. Overall, the 2008 flood upended countless lives and livelihoods and caused between $8 billion and $10 billion in damages—at the time, the fifth-largest disaster in the history of the United States.”

Nine years later, the IFC is now able to consistently measures rainfall every five minutes across the state, and Iowans can have peace of mind heading into the rainy summer months.

Iowa communities hopeful as water levels recede

Des Moines during the 2008 floods. Photo by Jeff Gitchel; Flickr
Des Moines during the 2008 floods. Photo by Jeff Gitchel; Flickr

Despite heavy rainfall in Iowa over the past weeks that has taken its toll on the state, some Iowa communities are remaining cautiously optimistic that the storm may have passed.

Coralville Lake is currently expected to crest at 711.3 feet, just below the spillway, and the Cedar River is already beginning to recede. Additionally, temporary fortifications along with those installed since the flood of 2008 have lessened damage in Coralville and Iowa City.

However, it is hard to predict whether or not communities are out of harm’s way, since meteorologists predict that next week’s forecasted rain will be localized.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources officials are encouraging residents to be safe over the holiday weekend, particularly if planning water recreation activities.

To monitor weather and water levels in your area, use the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS).


Iowa Flood Information System a useful resource

An image of the Iowa Flood Information System
An image from the Iowa Flood Information System

With wet conditions persisting and more rain predicted, a tool created by the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa can provide useful information to Iowa cities and residents.

The Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS) draws data from hundreds of US Geological Survey and IFC gauges, radar, and National Weather Service forecasts. Using these tools, IFIS is able to calculate flood risk, provide directions based on current weather conditions, view stream levels at over 300 locations, and much more — all in real time.

The interactive application is based on a Google Maps interface, allowing users to view a wide range of data specific to their communities. It is also available on tablets and mobile devices.

The goal of the IFIS is to educate communities and individuals on flood risks in order to minimize future damages.

To learn more about the IFIS and try it yourself, click here.

Iowa Flood Center and NASA work to improve flood forecasting

Photo by germuska, Flckr.
Photo by germuska, Flckr.

The Iowa Flood Center is working with NASA to improve flood forecasting.

NASA uses satellites to estimate rainfall. These estimates are being checked against ground data taken in northeastern Iowa through a partnership between NASA and the Iowa Flood Center.

The comparisons between the satellite and ground data will lead to better interpretations of the satellite data.

Read more here.

The Iowa Flood Center offers tools to track local flood conditions


With the abundant rain in Iowa over the past couple of weeks, it’s important to remember that the Iowa Flood Center offers tools for tracking flood conditions.

Make sure to check out the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS). This online tool allows you to track rainfall and stream levels across Iowa.

Iowa Flood Center looks for donations to add flood sensors

The Iowa River. Photo by Shan’s Photostream, Flickr.

The Iowa Flood Center is asking for donations in order to add more stream-stage sensors around Iowa.

These sensors collect real time data about stream height, which is then displayed on the Iowa Flood Information System. This data helps with the monitoring of flood potential in different watersheds.

The Iowa Flood Center has already placed 129 of these sensors around the state. With the help of the donations, they hope to add 100 more.

Read more about the sensors and how to donate here.

Video: Krajewski describes Iowa Flood Center’s resources

Nick Thomas, a PhD student who works with the Iowa Flood Center, using IFIS. Photo by Joe Bolkcom.

The Iowa Flood Center has released a video of their director Witold Krajewski presenting the flood center’s current resources.

In the presentation, Krajewski describes their online Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS), and how anyone can use it to track water levels in nearby watersheds. He also discusses the flood center’s development and deployment of stream stage sensors in watersheds, and how these sensors collect data for IFIS.

Watch the presentation here.

Iowa Flood Center expands stream sensor network

The Iowa River. Photo by Alan Light, Flickr.

The Iowa Flood Center has utilized the state’s unusually mild start to winter by installing an additional 50 electronic stream stage sensors across Iowa.

These sensors, 100 of which have been installed throughout the state, use sonar to measure the distance to the water’s surface and determine water levels. They then report this data to the Flood Center’s headquarters at the University of Iowa every 15 minutes.

This data allows for real-time monitoring of water levels in Iowa’s rivers and streams, thus improving the center’s ability to predict flooding.

Check out the data produced by these sensors at the Iowa Flood Information System website, which provides a detailed map of Iowa flood conditions, along with forecasts, visualizations, inundation maps, and other flood related information.

For more information on the Iowa Flood Center’s Steam Stage Sensor Program, visit the center’s website here.