The Rice University and Texas Medical Center (TMC) Flood Alert System (FAS) is being tested by Mother Nature this week on the occasion of the system’s 15th anniversary. And FAS is passing, said Phil Bedient, director of the Rice-based Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters Center.
A low-pressure system sitting over Southeast Texas has dumped as much as 15 inches of rain on portions of Harris County over the past week. Bedient called this an “unusual” event — but the very kind of situation FAS is designed to handle.
“It’s extremely unusual for us to have this kind of rain in the middle of July,” said Bedient, Rice’s Herman Brown Professor of Engineering. “I cannot remember having this level of rainfall, ever, in July. We might have a day or two where it rains hard, but never for this long.”
The flood-warning system tracks the Brays Bayou watershed in real time. TMC facilities can view up-to-date, Web-based maps that allow them to see how impending floods will affect neighborhoods, streets and buildings.
“Brays wasn’t impacted this time,” Bedient said. “The flow in the bayou peaked at about 11,000 cubic feet per second (Brays overflows its banks at 29,000 cubic feet per second), but what’s interesting to me is how close our system came between what was predicted and what was actually measured. We’re the only system in town that does this live, in real time.”
FAS, which was upgraded two years ago to incorporate real-time maps, went online in July 1997, and in 2001 gave sufficient advance warning of the impact of Tropical Storm Allison that no human lives were lost in the TMC despite more than $2 billion in damages.
Visit the Flood Alert System at http://fas3.flood-alert.org/.