Being in the midst of the US hurricane ‘season’ which runs from June to November, most Americans will have no idea that a Kiwi engineer/hydrologist has led the team that developed the software to monitor and measure water flows across the continental United States. Having this data at their fingertips means that the authorities can make decisions much earlier that will help save lives and reduce the impact of flooding on property.

Alumnus Professor David Maidment (1968-70), and his team at the Center for Water and Environment at the University of Texas at Austin, developed the National Water Model that takes in weather, river and land surface data and predicts when and where major floods will occur.

2018 Texas hurricane season
In 2018, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration in the US has forecast a 75% chance that the Texas hurricane season will be of average to above average in intensity. “Our data will be one of the major tools that will help predict what is going to happen, where, the volume and the intensity of the water flows. It means that people can more quickly get out of their houses to higher ground, and make their properties safer,” explains David.

David says that the model successfully predicted the water flows from Hurricane Harvey that slammed into Texas in August-September 2017. “We had a better understanding of where the water would fall, where it would flow and where the damage was likely to be – which was horrendous – more than 130,000 homes were flooded during the hurricane”. David served in the Texas State Operations Center throughout Hurricane Harvey helping to provide flood information to support the emergency response. He describes the experience as “the 10 most pressured days of my life”.

Launched in 2016, the National Water Model calculates the risk of flooding in 2.7 million creeks and rivers in the continental United States. The data is refreshed every hour of every day of every year.

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