As a civil engineer, have you ever gone into a home or structure following a flood event to determine the origin and extent of damage and prepare the scope of repairs required to restore the structure to its original condition?
“The emotional and personal memory [of that experience] is a stark reminder of why your work [as engineers and scientists] is essential to building sustainable and resilient communities and to keeping folks out of harm’s way,” Karen C. Kabbes, P.E., D.WRE, ENV SP, M.ASCE, and president of the ASCE/Environmental & Water Resources Institute (EWRI), told attendees of the 2014 International Symposium on Weather Radar and Hydrology.
“And keeping people out of harm’s way is one of the concerns of ASCE, the oldest engineering society in the U.S.”
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), each year approximately 90% of all disaster-related property damage results from flooding. Since 2003, the average flood claim in the U.S. has been more than $46,000 with yearly totals averaging $3.5 billion. Flooding causes damage not only to the interior contents and finish materials but to mechanical and electrical equipment as well.
“Infrastructure [spending] in the U.S. totals about $1 trillion dollars a year [and] almost every nickel of our constructed infrastructure is in some way related to rainfall,” added David C. Curtis, Ph.D., Aff.M.ASCE, vice president of West Consultants Inc., and a member of the symposium’s Organizing and Steering Committee. “Rainfall is integrated into the design of all infrastructure we build, whether it is conversion to run-off, the sizing of big bridge openings, [or] loading for buildings for structural integrity, irrigation, infiltration; the list goes on and on.
“But what we are finding in many cases is that the design standards that have been historically developed from rain gauge networks have been too coarse; in other words the gauges are not dense enough to actually capture the variability that we see in rainfall every day. So what this symposium is all about is figuring out better ways to understand the total volume of water that is falling on our watershed so we [as engineers and scientists] can actually do a better job both in designing the structure and in managing flood events in real time.”
Held April 7-10 at ASCE headquarters in Reston, Virginia, the 2014 International Symposium on Weather Radar and Hydrology was the 9th in a series since 1989. This year, it was sponsored by ASCE/EWRI. Approximately 165 experts from universities and organizations from 21 nations, who specialize in collecting and analyzing data from weather radar and transferring that into hydrology information, attended the symposium.
Exchanging Information about the Science and Engineering of Radar and Hydrology
Chandra S. Pathak, Ph.D., P.E., D.WRE, Hydrology, Hydraulics and Coastal Community of Practice engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and chair of the symposium, says that the pinnacle element of this symposium, entitled “Bridging Research and Applications,” is that with the continued advancement of computers and radar, it has increased the ability of engineers and scientists to collect and translate rainfall information. As opposed to the old standard rainfall gauges, much of this information can now be obtained by using radar methods – such as Doppler Radar, commonly used by television meteorologists in on-air weather reporting – and can be modeled and used to describe and translate the kind of real-time rainfall information that meteorologists are seeing on the ground in an effort to anticipate and/or predict near-term flooding events.
“What we are talking about,” explained Pathak, “is this technology known as Doppler Radar where the rainfall is measured indirectly as opposed to the old rain gauge, which many of us have in our backyard and is just a small cylinder that you put in the ground and [which] lets us know how much rain fell.
“Now imagine doing that for a living as a meteorologist, using an instrument of that same kind, which is very expensive to maintain because it contains a sophisticated computerized clock to measure rainfall by minutes, and needs constant maintenance. We are now beginning to use this new Doppler Radar technology, which allows you to more accurately track and collect rainfall data from location to location, and develops methods of estimating rainfall, which are useful to engineers in so many different ways.”
“If anybody takes anything away from this symposium,” notes Curtis, the keynote speaker at the banquet dinner held at the National Press Club, “it’s a renewed sense of energy to redouble your efforts to make advances in this science.”
Building Understanding Between Civil Engineers and Meteorologists
The symposium’s 4-day program consisted of 13 technical sessions and 4 poster sessions in one single track. A total of 65 oral presentations and 81 poster presentations were presented on topics ranging from hydrologic modeling, weather radar applications in urban areas, hydrologic flood forecasting, precipitation estimation, radar analysis for use in hydrological design, ensemble and probabilistic approaches in hydrologic applications, and precipitation variability and extremes.
“There are a number of things that we hope attendees came away with and number one, through the various session and poster presentations, they discovered new methods of information gathering and better data analysis,” says Pathak. “The second is taking advantage of the unique situation at this symposium whereby civil engineers can sit together with meteorologists and understand each other’s needs and requirements.
“Normally when civil engineers get together they are all of one discipline. Here, they are interacting with meteorologists and understanding how data is collected, what their limitations [are], and the data analysis side of it. And the meteorologists, in turn, understand what civil engineers do and how they come up with design standards. We end up with an understanding of both professions. So people are exchanging phone numbers, talking to each other, and developing personal relationships and understanding there are other people working on these issues.”
Pathak says the next International Symposium on Weather Radar and Hydrology will take place in Seoul, Korea, in 2017.