Tens of thousands of young people attend summer camp every year at Falls Creek in the Arbuckle Mountains near Davis, Oklahoma, with as many as 7500 people in camp at any one time. Back in 2015, Tropical Storm Bill caused a devastating flash flood that tore through the camp and isolated hundreds of campers for more than a day. It occurred at night and it was fortunate that no lives were lost.
It is because of incidents like this that I am involved in a project called Automated Non-Contact Hydrologic Observations in Rivers (ANCHOR), a component of which is to install 14 stream radar systems across the United States to detect and monitor flash floods. We installed the first system at Falls Creek Camp in March 2017.
On the evening of 19 May, less than two months after the initial installation, the data logger, which is programmed to send automated alerts when river speed and volume exceeds particular levels, sent a text message indicating that conditions were rapidly deteriorating.
In fact, the river rose from 2 to 12 feet in about an hour. I spent the remainder of the evening communicating with the camp leader and was relieved to receive the final text message: “Thank you. All are well.”
In Pursuit of Flash Flood Data
A new research project is already helping save lives and property with early flood notification after a stream in southern Oklahoma rose 10 feet in one hour.
Jonathan J Gourley, research hydrologist with the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory, said the project will demonstrate the use of remote-sensing technology for better flood detection and improve downstream predictions by models. Researchers will deploy 14 stream radars throughout the United States that utilize remote sensing to measure the speed, depth, and flow rates in streams.
NSSL is leading several remote sensing in streams projects, known as Automated NonContact Hydrologic Observations in Rivers, or ANCHOR, with funding from NOAA’s Joint Technology Transfer Initiative. This part of the project is with The University of Oklahoma Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies and the project principal investigator Danny Wasielewski, an electronics engineer with OU CIMMS.
Project utilizes radar technology for flood warnings
Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center, the oldest church camp in Oklahoma, hosts more than 50,000 kids and teens who come for summer camp each year. Falls Creek originates from the Washita River in Murray County and flows directly into the campgrounds named for it.
But flash floods now menace the camp and the facility all but closed after a 2015 flood left a few hundred campers stranded for more than 36 hours. So far, scientists do not know what caused the flooding.
With warming global temperatures, though, flash floods are becoming an increasing threat across many area of the US. So on a balmy April morning this spring, three researchers from the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) in Norman, Okla., drive more than 60 miles to the camp in a black pickup truck crammed with instruments in big boxes.
Severe storms lab developing remote flash flood sensing system