May 6, 2013 | Vol. 94, No. 106

Even with reams of data, flood-predicting is tough

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Perched in a boat drifting slowly along the Red River, Dan Thomas kept one eye on a laptop and the other on a $60,000 piece of floating hardware that beamed sound waves deep into the flooding river. As the signal bounced off water molecules and returned, the laptop sorted it into data on the river’s depth and speed and transmitted it instantly to the National Weather Service.

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Associated Press
a device called an acoustic Doppler current profiler is tethered to the side of a boat and used to take stream flow measurements and river depth readings on the Red River in Fargo, N.D. in April 2013. Even with reams of data, forecasting a flood is still an imprecise science.

Once there, the work by the U.S. Geological Survey’s water expert became part of the data stew the weather service relies upon to regularly update crest projections for rivers like the Red, whi...