Flood sensor updates to help protect Iowans this spring

Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 11.47.56 AM
The Iowa Flood Center’s Iowa Flood Information System shows the location of flood sensors throughout the state.

Julia Poska | March 17, 2020

Two major updates to Iowa’s network of flood sensors will help protect citizens and property this spring, when projections predict the state will see major flooding.

The Iowa Flood Center recently received $150,000 from the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, according to KCRG.  The IFC also received $30,000 from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The network’s service provider is phasing-out the previously used technology, according to KCRG, so the funding will provide new modems and data plans to keep the sensors running.

The Iowa Department of Transportation has also installed five new flood sensors along the Iowa-Nebraska state boundary, the Iowa Capital Dispatch reported. Areas in both states along the Missouri River were devastated by floods last spring. With elevated flood risk forecast for this year, the sensors could help Iowa and Nebraska officials coordinate disaster response.

Flood watch continues across Iowa; the latest in your part of the state

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 8.10.54 AM.png
Check the Iowa Flood Information System for current alert statuses. 

Julia Poska | March 14, 2019

While Iowans rejoiced over spring-like weather this week after a long, brutal winter, flooding caused by rapid snowmelt and heavy rains has threatened communities across the state.

Iowa weather services have been reporting higher-than-average risks for major flooding this spring since late February, and many outlooks have only increased within the last week, according to the Des Moines Register. The risk is most pronounced along the Mississippi River, where a Quad Cities survey found the risk of flooding through May to be 95 percent last week. The National Weather Service says flooding in the Quad Cities could break records.

The National Weather Service issued a flood watch Wednesday morning that will last until at least this evening across most of the state. In some areas the watch will extend into next week. Below is information on flooding and alerts throughout the state as of this morning.


  • Major flood stage was reached in Waterloo, Maquoketa and DeWitt as of Thursday morning. Moderate flood stage was reached in many areas Wednesday, including Kalona, Atkins and Augusta (IFIS).
  • Yesterday, Cedar Rapids expected a “moderate flood stage” when the Cedar River crests early next week. Officials said this should be fairly insignificant for residents. The city had already reached moderate flood stage as of Wednesday night (Gazette/IFIS).
  • An ice jam raised alarm in Ottumwa Wednesday morning, though it only caused minor agricultural flooding (Des Moines Register).


  • Squaw Creek in Ames reached major flood stage Wednesday afternoon. As of Thursday morning, all areas were at or below moderate levels (IFIS).
  • An ice jam collapsed a bridge in Johnston Wednesday evening. The trail leading to the bridge had been closed prior to the collapse (Des Moines Register).
  • Des Moines Public Works closed parts of George Flagg Parkway and Fleur Avenue. These could remain closed for days (WHOtv).
  • An ice jam in the Raccoon River flooded rural communities in Dallas County (Des Moines Register).


  • Western Iowa was hit worst of all. As of Thursday morning, eight communities from north to south were at major flood stage (IFIS).
  • The Boyer River in Hogan and the West Nishnabotna River near Avoca reached major flood stage Wednesday afternoon. A Red Cross station was set up in Avoca for those displaced from homes (kwbe/IFIS).
  • Underwood in Pottawattamie County lost function of its sewer lift system Wednesday. Residents were asked to stop flushing toilets temporarily (kwbe).
  • Harrison County Emergency Management ordered a partial evacuation of Missouri Valley Wednesday night. As of 9:20pm, 2,600 people were underwater (Des Moines Register).
  • Several roads have been closed as well. Check 511ia.org for current closures. 

Take care around even shallowly flooded areas, especially when driving. Remember that while newly-purchased flood insurance takes 30 days to go into effect (and will therefore not help you this week), Iowa’s flood season has only just begun.

Visit the Iowa Flood Information System to monitor current flood alerts, stream levels and rainfall forecasts for your area.

Iowa Flood Center resources for a soaking wet state

Screen Shot 2018-09-06 at 2.56.22 PM
This image taken from the Iowa Flood Information System shows the accumulation of rainfall in Iowa during the week leading up to this post.

Julia Poska| September 7, 2018

Citizens of Iowa know that with heavy rainfall comes flooding. The last few weeks of rain have served as a very real reminder around the state.

The Iowa Flood Center is a great source of information on current, forecasted and potential floods. Their Iowa Flood Information System in particular offers tools for researchers, city planners,  and even for concerned or curious private citizens.

At first glance, the IFIS may seem overwhelming. Fortunately for the everyday user, the IFIS homepage includes a tutorial video and links to some of the most universally useful features of the system.  These basic tools can be layered with additional information like rainfall, national parks and zip code boundaries, if users so choose.

The Inundation Maps feature shows current conditions at IFS water sensors . Zoom in on a selected area of the state and click on a blue “USGS” box along the water to view the water level at that sensor. Click “More Info” to view the level over time.  You can play with the slider in the panel to the right to see how higher or lower water levels would affect your community.

The Flood Alerts feature shows flood alerts at different stages, from “action” to “major” across the state. Clicking on the triangular alert symbols pulls up the same information about water level that the Inundation Maps feature does.

The River Communities feature dots the state with purple squares representing communities near rivers. Clicking on each will pull up information about future flood outlook and put a border around the upstream watershed so users can see what may be headed their way.

Use these tools during current and future flood hazards to stay informed, keep safe, or simply marvel at the power of nature and technology.


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.

Cedar River sees spike in water level and nitrates after rainstorms in Eastern Iowa

(Iowa Flood Information System)
(Iowa Flood Information System)
Nick Fetty | June 23, 2016

Sections of the Cedar River reached “flood level” after heavy rains earlier this week.

Data from the Iowa Flood Information System show that National Weather Service (NWS) sensors near Conesville and Palo detected levels in the Cedar River that exceeded “flood level” stage. NWS sensors use a four-point scale to rank flood severity: “Action Level, “Flood Level, “Moderate Level,” and “Major Level.” While “flood level” typically does not present a serious immediate threat, the system is meant to warn communities, landowners, and others about potential upcoming threats.

Sensors at Palo – which is about about 10 miles northwest of Cedar Rapids – recorded levels that exceeded “flood stage” over the weekend and on Monday but those level began to recede by Tuesday. Sensors at Conesville – roughly 60 miles southeast of Cedar Rapids – recorded “flood stage” levels around the middle of the day Wednesday. Unlike the Iowa River, the Cedar River does not have a dam or reservoir which helps to control flow rates downstream after heavy rains.

Spikes in nitrate levels were also detected in the Cedar River following this week’s rainstorms, according to data from the Iowa Water Quality Information System. The sensors at Palo and Conesville detected nitrate levels 2 mg/l or more above 10 mg/l, which is the Maximum Contaminant Level allowed for drinking water as established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The National Weather Service issued a Flash Flood Warning early Wednesday morning for parts of Benton, Iowa, Johnson, and Linn Counties. The precipitation elevated humidity levels across much of the state and a heat advisory was issued Wednesday for Southern Iowa, with parts of the region experiencing heat index values that exceeded 100 degrees. These heavy rains and elevated river levels follow weeks of “abnormally dry” conditions in Southeast Iowa.

June ranked Iowa’s fourth wettest month in 141 years

Nick Fetty | July 11, 2014
The Skunk River near White Oak in Polk County on July 2, 2014. Photo by Carl Wycoff; Flickr
The Skunk River near White Oak in Polk County on July 2, 2014.
Photo by Carl Wycoff; Flickr

Last month’s recorded rainfall in Iowa was nearly ten inches, making it the fourth wettest month the state has seen since accurate records started being kept in 1873.

The week of June 15th saw rainfall levels nearly three times above average and later in month a Cedar Rapids teenager died after flash floods swept him into a storm sewer. Heavy rainfall led to flash flooding particularly in the central and eastern portions of the state while farmers in western Iowa saw damage to their crops caused by storms.

The Coralville Reservoir crested at 708.2 feet above sea level earlier this week and levels are expected to return to normal if weather cooperates. The University of Iowa has spent about $4 million on measures to protect university property while the City of Iowa City has spent more than $500,000. These figures do not include damage estimates.

The wettest year on record in Iowa was 1993 which saw 48.22 inches of rain. This led to flooding across the state, particularly Des Moines where about 250,000 residents were without water for as long as two weeks.

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

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).


Severe weather and heavy rains pound eastern Iowa, rest of state

Nick Fetty | July 1, 2014
A wall cloud near Missouri Valley in western Iowa on June 29. Photo by Rich Carstensen; Flickr
A wall cloud near Missouri Valley in western Iowa on June 29.
Photo by Rich Carstensen; Flickr

Heavy precipitation and severe storms have caused flash floods, power outages, and other issues as approximately 2.5 inches of rain fell in Iowa City Monday afternoon.

The series of storms – known as a “derecho” – also produced gusts as high as 64 miles per hour which contributed to power loss for thousands in the Iowa City-Coralville area. As of 9 a.m. Tuesday, the Iowa River in Iowa City stood at 22.39 feet. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Monday that it would increase the Coralville Reservoir’s outflow from 7,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 10,000 cfs beginning Tuesday. Efforts have been made to protect various University of Iowa buildings, including the flood-prone Mayflower Residence Hall on North Dubuque Street.

The severe weather has also impacted other parts of the state such as near Fairfax, where a building collapse has caused one death. Search efforts are currently underway for a Cedar Rapids teenager who is missing after being swept into a storm sewer while several were injured during a Cedar Rapids Kernels game last night. Hail ravaged western parts of the state while heavy winds and possible tornadoes hit central Iowa.

Governor Branstad has issued a disaster proclamation for several central and eastern Iowa counties including Adair, Cedar, Guthrie, Jones, and Linn.

For more information about flooding across the state, check out the Iowa Flood Information System.

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.

On the Radio: Iowa Flood Information System

Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 10.49.06 AM

This week’s On the Radio segment covers the Iowa Flood Information System website that offers many features to help Iowans prepare for and better understand floods. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Continue reading