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Real Time River Reports Online
By: Scott F. Davis
sdavis@nwaonline.net

December 3, 2002
Current Data Not Available During 1982 Flood
       FAYETTEVILLE -- Scientists trying 20 years ago to measure a major flood were hampered by limited data and lack of physical access to the river sites most affected by flooding.

Much more information is available today.

On Dec. 3, 1982, much of northern and western Arkansas suffered major flooding after rainfall exceeded 12 inches in 24 hours at some places. It was the worst flood to hit Arkansas since at least 1945.

Benton and Washington counties missed the brunt, but the nearby Buffalo River reached its 100-year flood level -- the highest a river would be expected to rise once every 100 years -- or came close to it throughout its basin. Other parts of the state endured 500-year floods.

Today, 20 years later, real-time stream level information is available on the Arkansas Web site of the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS now has a network of nearly 110 stream sites in Arkansas for which levels are measured every 15 minutes and then updated at least six times daily via satellite.

During flooding, samples are taken more frequently, officials said.

"Although these graphs cannot be used to predict timing or magnitude of flood peaks, they do provide important information to the public in a timely way," said Shane Barks, USGS surveillance chief in Little Rock.

The real-time information offers scientists and researchers quick access to all types of data, such as stream flow, river levels and annual rainfall, but it also allows those who enjoy the outdoors to test the water before making the trip.

For example, a quick check on the Web site indicates whether the flow along the Buffalo River is right for a weekend float trip. If water levels are too low, the trip may involve carrying the canoe over low spots. If the water is too high, it may be unsafe to float.

The USGS site offers statewide information, so a weekend trip can be routed to where river levels are right for the occasion.

Scientists say they could have used the type of information available today to better record the flood 20 years ago.

After the fact, USGS recorded flood marks and computed the flood's discharge on Dec. 3, 1982, said Jim Peterson, USGS hydrologist in Little Rock.

"Twenty years ago, we didn't have (real-time) data available to us. We didn't know anything (quickly), except from weather reports. You kind of had to guess," he said.

In 1982, National Park Service rangers relied on "hunches" to guess when a flood might be coming, officials stated. Today, a complex system of rain collectors, radio repeaters and computers help the park service keep an eye on rain events in the Buffalo River.

"We can't stop the rain from falling or the damage it may bring, but today we at least have a pretty good idea where it is falling and where it is going," stated Doug Wilson, a spokesman for the National Park Service.

┬ęThe Morning News /NWAonline.net 2002
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