535 Establishing a sustainable regional flood forecast system in Central America

Wednesday, 9 January 2013
Exhibit Hall 3 (Austin Convention Center)
Ana Deisy Lopez, Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (MARN), San Salvador, El Salvador; and C. Barrett and S. Tokar

In October, 1998 Hurricane MITCH devastated Central America. Torrential rainfall of nearly one meter was followed by catastrophic flooding, flash flooding and mudslides . Over 20,000 people perished and economic losses set some of the countries 10 to 20 years behind . The US Government quickly responded to the disaster and Congress allocated funds to assist the countries with other donors to reconstruct the infrastructure that was destroyed. A portion of these funds went to U.S. federal agencies to rebuild an aged and decrepit forecast and warning system in Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador , and Guatemala which are countries that suffered the greatest losses. Congressional funds were established through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The principle agencies involved in the establishment of a flood forecasting and Early Warning System were NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the US Geological Survey (USGS). The goal was to establish an end to end flood forecasting and warning system for high flood potential rivers in the four countries. The project consisted of building a meteorological and hydrological observation system, a real time communication system, establishing the National Weather Service River Forecast System (NWSRFS) for main-stem river flooding and ALERT (Automated Local Evaluation in Real Time) systems for selected high potential flash flood river basins. Because funding was a supplemental, the project of building forecast and warning systems was limited to 2 and one half years. One of the projects was to build a regional flood forecasting system for the Rio Lempe River system. The river originates in Honduras and flows through Guatemala to El Salvador where potential losses to flooding are high. Stream gages and rain-gages were established throughout the basin and a public-private partnership was established between the National Hydrological and Meteorological service (NHMS) of El Salvador and the Energy company of the country (CEL). An agreement was reached where CEL would provide data to the NHMS and the NMHS would run NWS hydrologic models and provide forecast products to CEL to be used to operate the hydroelectric dams routinely and during floods. The system was established in 2001 and is still operational today. In fact NOAA National Weather Service is upgrading NWSRFS to the new Community Hydrologic Prediction System (CHPS) in the next 2-years. The success of the sustainability and effectiveness of this forecast system and public-private partnership as well as lessons learned could be a model for sustainable hydrometeorological projects in the future.
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