Data-collection efforts by the U.S. Geological Survey during the winter flood of 2015 on the Lower Mississippi River

Author(s): Manning, M.

In December 2015, the National Weather Service (NWS) began to predict and warn communities in flood prone areas that the Mississippi River would reach record flood levels in many areas. Based on these predictions, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) began to deploy flood-measuring crews at many locations on the Mississippi River to confirm and document these higher streamflow’s. As flood waters moved southward along the main stem of the Mississippi River, several USGS teams from offices within the Lower Mississippi-Gulf Water Science Center measured streamflow at several locations in the Lower Mississippi River system. In addition to the USGS, other agencies involved with streamflow measurements and flood forecasting in the Lower Mississippi main stem reaches included the NWS, as well as, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - St Louis, MO, Memphis, TN, Vicksburg, MS, and New Orleans, LA, districts. By mid- to late-January 2016, approximately 72 non-routine streamflow measurements were made at various locations in the Mississippi River main stem system. These measurements were used to confirm stage-discharge ratings and support NWS flood-forecast models as the crest moved into the lowermost reaches of the Mississippi River basin near New Orleans, LA. These streamflow data, in combination with other hydrologic measurements, are widely used by local, State, and Federal agencies to predict flood-inundated areas, as well as, to maintain and operate flood-control structures that are used to divert or reduce major flooding near New Orleans, LA. In addition to numerous flow measurements, several USGS crews collected flow-weighted water-quality samples and maintained continuous water-quality monitors that measured water temperature, salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, and turbidity, to characterize changes in water quality due to increased flow. The Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation (TDEC) assisted the USGS with water-quality-data collection at Memphis, TN. In mid-January, near peak streamflow on the Mississippi River at Vicksburg, MS, a group of USGS scientists from more than 9 offices throughout the Nation, collaborated to collect extensive streamflow, bathymetry, water velocity, and bedform data at that site to help advance new research regarding the use of remotely-sensed data collected from onsite video, Predator drone recordings, and satellite imagery to compute streamflow. This research effort will help expand the understanding of flood dynamics, as well as, potentially reducing the physical manpower required to measure flood events in the field.

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