Snow forecast | @theU

For elderly Utahans, who can forget the Great Salt Lake City floods of 1983? Record rainfall the previous winter brought spring-like runoff from the mountains that temporarily turned downtown streets into raging rivers.

Although flooding is no longer the concern it was nearly 40 years ago for the Salt Lake Valley, it is still critical that scientists and policy makers understand the impact of snow accumulation along the Wasatch Mountains. on our quality of life, not only to prevent future floods, but also to deal with the more immediate problem of drought.

Two University of Utah professors will receive up to $7 million in funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to help NOAA better predict how mountain snow cover contributes to our water supply. The U and their work will be part of a new consortium of 28 nonprofits, government and industry members, and partners who will research water resources and develop more accurate models to predict catastrophic flooding. This group, the Cooperative Institute for Operations Research in Hydrology, or CIROH, will be based at the University of Alabama and will receive up to $360 million to support the research efforts of the consortium and its partners. Brigham Young University and Utah State University will also be members of the CIROH consortium.

Flooding hasn’t been such a pressing concern for Utah lately, but the work of University of Utah assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering Carlos Oroza and U. McKenzie Skiles will also benefit our understanding of drought conditions.

“Snow is a critical water resource for the State of Utah – it acts as a large-scale natural reservoir, collecting water during the winter and then slowly releasing it in the spring and summer as snow. stream flow,” says Oroza. “Unlike artificial reservoirs, however, locally we have limited control over storage and release. Therefore, real-time flow forecasts are essential for water managers and downstream stakeholders. This collaboration is an exciting opportunity to develop new technologies for high-resolution snow monitoring and river flow forecasting.

The University of Utah research will combine remote aerial lidar sensors (a pulsed laser that measures distances to Earth), ground sensors and satellite imagery to collect snowpack data in the ‘Utah. Professors will also develop software algorithms that use the data to measure how quickly snow melts due to factors such as atmosphere, sunlight, thermal radiation and phase changes.

The team also wants to involve “citizen science” in data collection by employing people such as backcountry skiers with avalanche probes to get additional snow depth readings.

“The snowpack provides the majority of surface water resources to meet local water demand, up to 80% or more, and a lot of what we don’t get downstream is groundwater recharge. , and we want to use that water as efficiently as possible,” says Skiles. “Developing understanding of how much snow we have and when it will melt will help NOAA provide improved forecasts leading to better snow management. the water.”

Their research will benefit not just Utah, but the entire western United States where drought conditions are severe, the two say.

CIROH will advance water research in support of NOAA’s Office of Water Prediction and strengthen the work of the National Weather Service and National Water Center through collaboration within the scientific community in four major research themes:

  • Water resources forecasting capabilities.
  • Modeling of community water resources.
  • Hydroinformatics.
  • Application of social, economic and behavioral sciences to the forecasting of water resources.

In addition, CIROH will create study programs for its consortium members and partners to prepare the next generation of water professionals.

“We are now beginning the real work of co-producing research with NOAA and other partners that will benefit society and provide learning opportunities for students for years to come,” said Steven J. Burian, professor of engineering. Civil, Construction, and Environmental at the University of Alabama, who will serve as CIROH’s chief executive. Burian was until recently a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Utah. “The research innovations provided by the Cooperative Institute will improve flood and drought forecasting, increase the efficiency of water resource management, protect water quality, and enable stakeholders to make informed decisions. trustworthy and in a timely manner.”

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