NOAA’s National Weather Service Releases Report on May 2010 Nashville Flood
January 12, 2011
Download here. (Credit: With permission from Rick Murray.)
On May 1-4, 2010, greater Nashville and the surrounding region experienced catastrophic, record flooding. Despite ongoing forecasts and warnings for heavy rain and widespread flooding several days in advance, 26 people died in the region – 11 of those in Nashville, where property damage exceeded $2 billion.
Shortly after the flood, NOAA’s National Weather Service sent a 10-person team to Nashville to examine the agency’s service to the community before and during the flood. The team spent seven days in the field interviewing flood victims, first responders, local business owners, the media and local officials. Their goal was to identify best practices and determine if the National Weather Service could have done anything differently for a better outcome.
“The team found that personnel in every agency involved in the flood were making all efforts to maintain operations and provide emergency support services to the community,” said Jane Hollingsworth, a Reno, Nevada weather forecast office meteorologist leading the assessment team. “Their capability was pushed to the limit due to unprecedented rainfall and record flooding. The magnitude of the rain and flood impacts was unimaginable and to some degree beyond the current state of science to predict.”
The team’s report includes a timeline of events leading up to and during the flood, a summary of their field research, facts about National Weather Service preparation, and actions and operations before and during the flood. The team identified four key findings and recommendations, among 13 in total, which are available in the report.
Jack Hayes, PhD, director of the National Weather Service, said that local offices have addressed the team’s key recommendations in the eight months since the flood. “The assessment team’s deliberative review is of great value, but we didn’t wait for the final report to make improvements to better serve the citizens of Nashville and the rest of America,” he said.
Among these improvements are:
- Better coordination and communications with key partners such as the Army Corps of Engineers;
- Re-emphasized procedures for local offices to ensure that forecast desks are sufficiently augmented during significant weather;
- Enhanced NWS flood forecast training program locally; and,
- Making changes to better communicate risk with stronger wording in NWS warnings and by working with the community to develop flood maps for Nashville.
Below are the team’s key findings and recommendations:
- Finding: At critical times during the flood, insufficient coordination and communication between the National Weather Service and the Army Corps of Engineers undermined the flood forecast for the Cumberland River at Nashville. It was symptomatic of a lack of understanding of each other’s operational procedures, forecast processes and critical data needs.
Recommendation: The National Weather Service should take the lead to engage partners in regular interactions and exercises. Results of this effort should be a clear understanding of operating needs and procedures of each agency during routine and extreme weather events, creating quality long-term relationships and ensuring open and timely communications.
- Finding: Despite good coordination and increased staffing in advance of the flooding, the forecast office in Nashville and the Ohio River Forecast Center needed additional staff augmentation to manage operations more proactively and maintain a high level of situational awareness as the severity of the flood threat increased.
Recommendation: Weather Service field offices should employ proven pre-event staffing models during high-impact weather. Staffing should include an event coordinator.
- Finding: Many people did not respond to flood warnings, either because the warnings were not activated over the Emergency Alert System or because they were not specific enough to cause listeners to believe the flooding would impact their roads, homes and businesses. Those interviewed in the flood-impacted neighborhoods said they could not relate forecast stages on the Cumberland River to the threat at their homes, and all perceived that they had no warning.
Recommendation: Develop high resolution flood maps for Nashville and other highly populated and flood prone areas. Do this through the Integrated Water Resources Science and Services Consortium, a broad multi-agency initiative NOAA is leading to streamline water resource information, management and forecasting. There is an urgent local need for flood maps to help people identify their personal risk. The team recommends that development of the Integrated Water Resources Science and Services Consortium be expedited.
The National Weather Service often conducts service assessments after severe weather with significant socioeconomic impacts to a community. By documenting and sharing lessons learned from catastrophic weather events, the agency ensures continual improvement of its service to America.
The National Weather Service is the primary source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the United States and its territories. It operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast system in the world, helping to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy. Visit us online at weather.gov and on Facebook.
NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Find us online and on Facebook.