This paper was compiled from numerous reports to give a general overview of the purpose and functions of the Missouri Basin River Forecast Center. Some of the information in this paper was developed by other agencies that have an interest in the Missouri River Basin. Users of this paper are encouraged to suggest other information for inclusion in subsequent editions.
III. FORECAST MODELS
IV. PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION
MISSOURI RIVER BASIN
ST. MARY RIVER BASIN
The National Weather Service (NWS) has the hydrologic forecasting responsibility for the nation. The mission of the NWS Hydrologic Service Program is to save lives, reduce property damage, and contribute to the optimum use of the nation's water resources. The magnitude of destruction by floods is enormous; floods typically result in approximately 200 deaths and $2 billion in property damage annually.
The NWS meets its hydrologic forecast responsibilities through the efforts of the thirteen River Forecast Centers (RFC's) located throughout the United States. The River Forecast Center is a first echelon office in the hydrologic forecast organization, and is analogous to the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) in its forecast function. The RFC initiates and is responsible for all flash flood guidance and nearly all river forecasts, streamflow, and water supply volume forecasts.
The NWS underwent a major Modernization and Reorganization (MAR) effort during the 1990's. The modernization effort included the implementation of advanced technology such as the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS), Next Generation Weather Radar (WSR-88D) and the Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS). The restructuring effort reorganized a network of Weather Service Forecast Offices (WSFOs) and Weather Service Offices (WSOs) to a new class of modernized offices called Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs).
The hydrology program of the NWS capitalized on these new technologies by incorporating the additional information they provide to produce more accurate, site specific, and timely hydrologic forecast products. The modernization has also included the implementation of new hydrologic software. The latest software, called the Community Hydrologic Prediction System (CHPS), was implemented at all the RFC's by early 2012. For more information on CHPS, click here.
Each RFC provides hydrologic guidance and expertise to a network of weather forecast offices located within each RFC's area of hydrologic responsibility. An RFC's area of responsibility is defined by river basin boundaries, while a weather forecast office's area of responsibility is generally defined by political boundaries. Products generated by the RFCs include flood forecasts, general river forecasts, extended streamflow outlooks, reservoir inflow forecasts, water supply outlooks, spring flood outlooks, and various types of flash flood guidance.
In addition, RFCs provide a variety of other services, such as developing and implementing new forecast procedures, forecast techniques, computer systems, data handling techniques, and hydrologic-related hardware. The RFCs also provide hydrologic expertise on a wide range of hydrologic activities such as dam break analysis for NWS and other federal, state, and local agencies.
The Missouri Basin River Forecast Center (MBRFC) was established in October of 1946. MBRFC provides a variety of hydrologic services in an area that includes the entire Missouri River Basin and the Saint Mary Basin in Montana (which is an international treaty stream with Canada). This area encompasses 530,000 square miles and contains a population of over 9 million people. The Missouri and Saint Mary Basins encompass some or all of ten states and two Canadian provinces.
Meteorological features of the region vary greatly, with high temperatures in the summer over 100 degrees, to lows in the winter less than 50 degrees below zero. Average annual rainfall varies from 6 to 50 inches, and average snowfall ranges from 20 to 200 inches. Streamflow characteristics also vary greatly. Rapidly falling creeks and rivers dominate the mountains and upper parts of the basin, while flat valley floors and sluggish streams characterize the lower reaches.
The combination of snowmelt, ice jams, high soil moisture, and widespread heavy precipitation can result in frequent flooding in the spring. However, floods can occur any time of the year. Flash flooding on smaller streams generally results from heavy localized summer thunderstorms. The MBRFC, in partnership with weather forecast offices across the Midwest, disseminate a growing number of public flood warnings each year.
Special forecasts may be provided for locations that are not a regular forecast point when requested by a weather office or cooperating federal agency. In addition to the NWS offices, the RFC coordinates and provides forecasts to other government agencies. These agencies include the division and district offices of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Geological Survey.
The history of weather observations in the Missouri Basin has been one of evolution. It began with reports from trappers and explorers, followed by systematic observations at sparsely located military outposts, and eventually culminated in today's highly automated system using satellites and other telecommunication technology.
The National Weather Service collects hydrologic data from many sources. A very important source of data comes from the paid or volunteer cooperative observer. Many of these observers report daily river and rainfall amounts, while others send reports based on the current hydrologic situation.. Other data sources include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Geological Survey ,and city, county, and state networks. Much of the data is collected by automated gages such as LARC, ASOS, ALERT, and satellite gages called DCP's. The need for reports 24 hours a day led to much of the data collection techniques becoming automated.
The local weather office still collects the majority of hydrologic data and transmits it to the River Forecast Center in Standard Hydrological Exchange Format (SHEF). SHEF was developed in order to standardize the format in which the data is sent to the RFC's. This has allowed computer programs to be written which automatically read and input the data into a database which is accessed by computers here at the RFC. Automated data collection systems such as HADS and ASOS also transmit data in SHEF format.
Snow cover data is used by hydrologists at the MBRFC to assess the impact of winter snow cover on spring flood potential. Snow cover data in remote areas is difficult, time-consuming, and in some cases, hazardous to collect. Additionally, much of the data may be significantly in error. Ice lenses within the snow pack and at the ground-snow interface can contribute to substantial errors in the measurement of snow depth. Redistribution of snow cover into drifts and clear areas makes the selection of a representative sampling site very difficult.
In an effort to provide more useful snow water equivalent data, the NWS Office of Hydrology began research and development in 1969 on a technique using natural terrestrial gamma radiation to measure mean areal snow water equivalents from a low-flying aircraft. The early research led to the implementation of an operational Airborne Gamma Radiation Snow Survey Program located near Minneapolis, Minnesota. In wintertime, getting the much needed snow depths and water equivalents for snowmelt forecasts is difficult. The 205 flight lines which can be flown supplement the ground data collected by the cooperative observers.
Snow cover maps are also derived from satellite imagery. These maps provide forecasters with information on snow pack location, elevation, and extent. Currently, snow mapping operations utilize real-time full resolution 1 km GOES data. The digital snow cover mapping technique is based on the fact that snowcover increases the brightness of a land area. The incorporation of airborne snow cover measurements and snow cover maps into the continuous conceptual snow model provides the mechanism for continued improvements in the hydrologic forecasting services provided by the RFC.
One of two significant changes to RFC operations in the modernized NWS is the use of radar precipitation estimates in generating river forecasts. Precipitation estimates from the WSR-88D radars at more than 25 sites have allowed for better temporal and areal distribution of precipitation to be input into the hydrologic forecasting model.
The other significant change to RFC operations is the routine use of 24 hour Quantitative Precipitation Forecasts (QPF) in the river forecasts disseminated by MBRFC. The goal of using QPF is to provide more lead time for forecasts of rising rivers when heavy rainfall is expected in the area.
The RFC can also provide a contingency river forecast based on QPF. A user may want to know how different amounts of forecast precipitation will affect the river stages when a major storm is impending.
The RFC decodes the data, reviews it for quality control, and processes the data to determine runoff from rainfall amounts. Snowmelt is also calculated from current and forecast temperatures. The end result is a stage and/or flow forecast at a specific point along a river.
The MBRFC uses a Mulitsensor Precipitation Estimator to ingest precipitation data from a variety of sources to input into the hydrologic models. This program has the ability to view radar estimated precipitation, gage reports, model initialized precipitation, and satellite precipitation estimates to give the forecaster multiple options to blend together the best possible fields to arrive at the optimum precipitation estimates that will be ingested into the river models. A slide show describing the capabilities of the software can be viewed here.
After the precipitation has been tabulated, the mean areal distribution is determined for all areas of concern. The basin average precipitation can be obtained by computing an arithmetical average of the gridded fields from the Multisensor Precipitation Estimator, or the Theissen polygon method if using only gage reports. Although the average is usually calculated by a computer, a manually determined value is sometimes better. This is because the precipitation occurred in a narrow band or was concentrated on the up or downstream side of the basin.
Currently the MBRFC uses the Sacramento Soil Moisture Accounting Model to determine proper soil moisture and runoff calculations. Unit hydrographs are used to time distribute rainfall runoff to streamflow. Wherever possible, unit hydrographs were developed from existing streamflow gage records. However, synethtic methods have been used in ungaged areas. At this RFC, synthetic unit hydrographs are generally developed by using a variation of the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) method. This method requires only a minimum of data, namely: length of storm, slope, size of drainage area, and the desired duration of time. The flows generated from unitgraphs are then routed downstream using one of three routing methods, i.e., K and L, Tatum or Muskingum.
The accuracy and timeliness of the river forecasts, especially for floods, are of the utmost importance to the safety of lives and property throughout the large Midwest region. Evacuation of people, livestock, and goods, and protective measures for fixed installations can be accomplished only if sufficient warning time is available. If accuracy is not maintained, warnings may not be given, or protective measures and evacuations may be taken when they are not required. Organized plans of action would then bog down because of lack of confidence in the forecasts. The decision to issue flood forecasts which are prepared by the RFC's is the initial "trigger" for actions that start numerous and costly operations to prevent loss of life and damage to property. The return to normal operations after the flood waters recede is also an important phase of forecasting. This allows businesses and residents to begin recovery operations at the earliest possible time. Even in non-flood periods, efficient operation of water control structures, riverside industry, and navigation depends on the accurate and timely forecasts of changes in river stages, and thus has considerable economic impact.
Forecasting is complicated by the wide variations in runoff characteristics among tributaries, by variable rainfall intensities and changing soil moisture conditions, by artificial controls from numerous locks and dams; by the rapid expansion of irrigation and transmountain diversions, improved land-use practices, shifting channels, flood control structures and releases for navigation, environmental pollution abatement, and energy and municipal water supply operations,
Ice jams and bridge obstructions are a real problem to winter and spring forecasting. At the present moment, there is no quantitative means of forecasting the forming or breaking up of ice jams, or the collection of obstructions along bridges.
Another major problem in the MBRFC area is in the ever-shifting ratings of many of the rivers. This is particularly true of the Missouri River from Sioux City to the mouth. Cold water has a tendency to dig (erosion/degradation) and carry more solids. Warm water deposits its load (deposition/aggradation). Therefore the same flow may experience different stage readings.
Many varied forecasts are issued by this office. The most common guidance is the crest forecast; however, five-day forecasts are issued daily for the Kansas and Missouri River mainstem. Seven-day forecasts are released for gages at Kansas City, Waverly, and Hermann, Missouri. Long-range forecasts (30 days) are issued for the Missouri mainstem each Wednesday. Water supply forecasts are coordinated with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Portland Oregon, and issued monthly January through May and/or June. Each February and March, Spring snowmelt outlooks are made for those areas with historical and potential snow problems. In addition to daily, monthly, and seasonal forecasts, the MBRFC will make reservoir inflow forecasts upon request. Lastly, this office issues headwater, county, and gridded flash flood guidance on a daily basis.
All forecasts and guidance are issued to National Weather Service Forecast Offices in the MBRFC area of responsibility, other River Forecast Centers, certain Corps of Engineers Offices , the Bureau of Reclamation, and NRCS offices when applicable. We usually does not deal directly with the public since our primary mission is to provide support to other governmental offices.
Local flash flood warning systems may be totally automated or manually operated. The automated systems are made up of remote automatic reporting rainfall, stream gages, and a computer which is located in an office staffed around the clock. When rainfall or stream height reaches a predetermined value, a warning device sends a signal to commence activity. The manual alert systems require a predetermined value of rainfall, which causes someone to take action based on a guidance value supplied by MBRFC.
Another type of flash flood is a dam break, which can occur with little or no warning. The devastation that occurs as impounded reservoir water escapes through the breach of a failed dam and rushes downstream is quick and deadly. This potential for disastrous flash flooding poses a grave threat to many communities located downstream of dams. The tragic destruction resulting from the failures of the Buffalo Creek coal-waste dam, the Toccoa Dam, the Teton Dam, and the Laurel Run Dam, underscores the real need for accurate and prompt forecasting of dambreak flooding. Advising the public of downstream flooding during a dam failure emergency is the responsibility of the NWS.
Early each spring, four spring outlooks are issued by this office. These outlooks discuss in qualitative and/or quantitative terms, the potential for spring snowmelt flooding. Ground snow data, flight line and satellite snow information as well as existing ground and river conditions are all taken into consideration.
Snowmelt outlooks are produced using two major scenarios: (1) melt based on future probable temperatures and "normal" future precipitation for the season; and (2) melt based on future probable temperatures and no additional precipitation (rain or snow). In addition to these four statements, unscheduled advisory's and/or forecasts are issued as hydro-meteorologic conditions warrant.
Presently, water supply forecasting is a multi-step process which is completed during the first five working days of each month, year-round. The calendar year is split into two seasons, the forecast season (generally January through May) and the non-forecast season (generally June through December).
MBRFC provides water supply guidance for the Upper Missouri and St. Mary River Basins. Each month, a variety of products are issued by this RFC. The result of this effort is a joint monthly publication by the NRCS and NWS entitled "Water Supply Outlook for the Western United States which is available through the home pages of NRCS and the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC)."
Water Supply flow volume forecasts issued in terms of annual and seasonal runoffs are used in the long range planning of water users for the operation of multipurpose reservoirs to accomplish optimum flood control and to minimize wasting of valuable water resources. The initial water supply forecasts are issued in early January to permit an early outlook for planning the planting of irrigated crops, the possible rationing of a short water supply for both agricultural and municipal users, for establishing the length of the navigation season on the Missouri and for the early release of upstream reservoir water to gain increased capacities for the reduction of anticipated flood crests.
In November 2011, a new modern, hydrologic model, the Community Hydrologic Prediction System (CHPS) was implemented at the MBRFC. CHPS replaces NOAA's previous software for water forecasting - the NWS River Forecasting System (NWSRFS), which was not flexible enough to support the burgeoning needs of the hydrometeorological community of the 21st century.
CHPS is built on standard software packages and protocols, and open data modeling standards, and provides the basis from which new hydraulic and hydrologic models and data can be shared within a broader hydrologic community. Developed using a "service oriented architecture," an emerging standard for large-scale system design, CHPS enables scientists and programmers to work together and rapidly transition new innovative analyses and forecast techniques (e.g., water quality models) from the drawing board to operational deployment.
To aid in forecasting the inundation resulting from dam failures, the numerical NWS Dam-Break Flood Forecasting Model (DAMBRK) was developed to model the outflow hydrograph produced by a time-dependent, partial dam breach, and route this hydrograph downstream using the complete one-dimensional unsteady flow equations, while accounting for the effects of downstream dams, bridges, and off-channel storage.
In addition to this very complex model, the NWS also has a simplified Dam-Break Model (SMPDBK). The major dams within the Missouri River Basin have been modeled using SMPDBK. The results have been stored in a computerized dam catalogue (DAMCAT). In addition to the downstream routings available through DAMBRK, MBRFC has the capability to utilize the breach flows in CHPS for more accurate downstream forecasts.
Although MBRFC uses the DAMBRK program in advance of a dambreak, in some situations, the real-time use of the DAMBRK model may be precluded because warning response time is extremely short or adequate computing facilities are not available. When time is of the essence, the use of SMPDBK, DAMCAT and "rules of thumb" can be more appropriate. As a rule, the crest produced by a dambreak will be one-half of the height of the dam immediately below the dam. The crest will attenuate by one-half for each additional ten miles downstream and the flood wave will travel at about three to four miles per hour.
The Missouri River, from its beginning at the confluence of the Gallatin, Madison, and Jefferson Rivers in Montana, to its confluence with the Mississippi River above St. Louis, Missouri, drains all or parts of ten states, while flowing over a course 2,460 miles long (1941 adjustment). The total drainage area of the basin is 529,350 square miles, which is more than 42 percent of the total area drained by the Mississippi River and one-seventh of the total area of the United States. The Rocky Mountains, with elevations ranging to over 14,000 feet above sea level, form the western boundary of the Missouri Basin and ranges of these mountains extend into the basin for considerable distances. Except for the semi-mountainous Black Hills in South Dakota and the Ozark uplift in southern Missouri, the entire basin to the east of the Rocky Mountains may be regarded as plains country. For the most part, these high plains range from 2,000 feet above sea level at their eastern margin to 4,000-6,000 feet where they give way to the steep eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
With a total fall of 3,630 feet, the slope of the Missouri River averages 1.5 feet per mile, ranging from 4.3 feet per mile for the reach from Three Forks (head of the river) to above the falls at Great Falls, 3.7 feet per mile from below the falls to Zortman (near the head of Fort Peck Reservoir), 1.1 feet per mile from Zortman to the Yellowstone River, and an average of 0.9 feet from the Yellowstone River to the mouth (with variations to as low as 0.2 feet per mile in local reaches). Outstanding among the tributaries are the Yellowstone River, which drains an area of over 70,000 square miles and joins the Missouri River near the Montana-North Dakota Boundary, the Platte Rive, with a 90,000 square mile drainage area which enters the Missouri in eastern Nebraska, and the Kansas River, which empties into the main stem in eastern Kansas and drains an area of about 60,000 square miles. The most prominent feature of the drainage pattern of the upper and middle portions of the Basin is that every major tributary, except for the Milk River, is a right bank tributary flowing to the east or to the northeast. Only in the extreme lower basin, below the mouth of the Kansas River, is a fair balance reached between left and right bank tributaries. The direction of flow of the major tributaries is of particular importance from the standpoint of potential concentration of flows from storms that typically move in an easterly direction.
Wide ranges in temperature and irregular annual and seasonal precipitation characterizes the climate of the Missouri Basin. The extremes in temperature are caused by alternating cold air masses moving in from the northwest and warm air masses moving in from the Gulf of Mexico. All areas except the mountains have experienced temperatures over 100 degrees F to well below zero.
Wind directions tend to be from the south and southwest in summer and from the north and northwest during the winter. Maximum wind velocities range from 45 to 120 miles per hour. The Great Plains generally record the higher velocities. High winds with high temperatures increase evaporation, damage crops, and cause dust storms. The winter high winds and low temperatures cause blowing snow and blizzards.
The amount of annual precipitation, its form, and seasonal variation are related to the topography of the area. The highest amounts of precipitation fall over the Rocky Mountains and the Ozarks. Precipitation ranges to over 40 inches annually of measurable water equivalent. One hundred inches of snowfall is common throughout the Rockies. Average annual precipitation on the Great Plains varies from under 12 inches to slightly over 20 inches. Generally, the southeastern portions report the larger amounts with decreasing amounts occurring to the northwest.
The lowlands of eastern South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas, and western Iowa and Missouri generally receive 20 to 40 inches of precipitation annually. The yearly precipitation in the northern portion of this area is divided between summer rains and winter snow, while the southern portion's annual precipitation is almost entirely rainfall which occurs throughout the year.
Floods in the Rockies are generally flash floods occurring in the warm season, especially on the smaller streams. The larger streams flood mainly when rain falls on melting snow. Flood flows elsewhere are usually due to thunderstorms passing over the area. Ice jams play an important role in all but the extreme southeastern portion of the Missouri River Basin.
The St. Mary River, located in northern Montana, flows in a northerly direction toward Canada and is part of the Hudson Bay drainage. The St. Mary drainage area within the United States is approximately 465 square miles.
Climate and geography are similar to the headwaters of the Marias and Milk Rivers.
Jefferson River Basin, MT... 9,277 sq. miles
Milk River Basin, MT... 22,332 sq. miles
Powder River Basin, MT, WY... 13,194 sq. miles
Yellowstone River Basin, MT, WY... 69,103 sq. miles
Little Missouri River Basin, MT, WY, ND, SD... 8,310 sq. miles
Cheyenne River Basin, WY, SD... 24,500 sq. miles
James River Basin, ND, SD... 21,500 sq. miles
Missouri River Basin above Sioux City, IA...314,600 sq. miles
Big Sioux River Basin, SD, MN, IA... 9,810 sq. miles
Niobrara River Basin, NE...12,600 sq. miles
North Platte River Basin, WY, NE...34,900 sq. miles
South Platte River Basin, CO, NE... 24,300 sq. miles
Loup River Basin, NE... 15,200 sq. miles
Elkhorn River Basin, NE... 6,900 sq. miles
Platte River Basin, CO, WY, NE... 85,800 sq. miles
Republican River Basin, CO, NE, KS... 24,542 sq. miles
Smoky Hill River Basin, CO, KS... 19,261 sq. miles
Big Blue River Basin, NE, KS... 9,640 sq. miles
Kansas River Basin, CO, NE, KS... 60,060 sq. miles
Missouri River Basin above Kansas City, MO... 489,200 sq. miles
Grand River Basin, IA, MO... 7,883 sq. miles
Osage River Basin, KS, MO...14,500 sq. miles
Missouri River Basin above St. Charles, MO...529,190 sq. miles
There are 14,000 plus dams in the ten states that the Missouri River Basin encompasses, many of which are located outside the MBRFC area of responsibility. Of interest to this office are those dams which affect the forecast procedures. MBRFC's prime interest is river forecasting. Indirectly flood control, navigation, hydropower, and irrigation can affect and impact the hydrologic analysis.
Of the dams in the MBRFC area of responsibility, approximately seventy dams are included in the forecast schemes. A partial list of these dams follows. Numerous other dams are potential flash flood points because of their threat to life and property.
Bonny Reservoir, CO.... South Fork Republican River
Swanson Reservoir, NE .... Republican River
Hugh Butler Reservoir, NE.... Willow Creek
Harry Strunk Reservoir, NE.... Medicine Creek
Harlan County Reservoir, NE.... Republican River
Cedar Bluff Reservoir, KS.... Smoky Hill River
Kanopolis Reservoir, KS.... Smoky Hill River
Wilson Reservoir, KS.... Saline River
Kirwin Reservoir, KS.... North Fork Solomon River
Webster Reservoir, KS.... South Fork Solomon River
Glen Elder Reservoir, KS.... Solomon River
Norton Reservoir, KS.... Prairie Dog Creek
Lovewell Reservoir, KS.... White Rock Creek
Milford Reservoir, KS.... Republican River
Tuttle Creek Reservoir, KS.... Big Blue River
Perry Reservoir, KS.... Delaware River
Clinton Reservoir, KS.... Wakarusa River
Enders Reservoir, NE.... Frenchman Creek
Melvern Reservoir, KS.... Marais des Cygnes River
Pomona Reservoir, KS.... Hundred Ten Mile Creek
Hillsdale Reservoir, KS.... Big Bull Creek
La Cygne Reservoir, KS.... White Sugar Creek
Stockton Reservoir, MO.... Sac River
Pomme De Terre Res., MO.... Pomme De Terre River
Harry S. Truman Res., MO.... Osage River
Bagnell Reservoir, MO.... Osage River
Fort Peck Dam, MT.... Missouri River
Garrison Dam, ND.... Missouri River
Oahe Dam, SD.... Missouri River
Big Bench Dam, SD.... Missouri River
Fort Randall Dam, SD.... Missouri River
Gavins Point Dam, SD.... Missouri River
Cheesman Reservoir, CO.... South Platte River
Chatfield Reservoir, CO.... South Platte River
Bear Creek Reservoir, CO.... Bear Creek
Cherry Creek Reservoir, CO.... Cherry Creek
Wheatland Reservoir #2, WY.... Laramie River
Grayrocks Reservoir, WY.... Laramie River
Guernsey Reservoir, WY.... North Platte River
Glendo Reservoir, WY.... North Platte River
Kinsley Dam, NE.... North Platte River
Keystone Dam, NE.... North Platte River
Pipestem Dam, ND.... Pipestem Creek
Jamestown Dam, ND.... James River
Columbia Road Dam, SD.... James River
Tongue River Reservoir, MT.... Tongue River
Ruby Dam, MT.... Ruby River
Tiber Dam, MT.... Marias River
Fresno Dam, MT.... Milk River
Gibson Reservoir, MT.... Sun River
Heart Butte Dam, ND.... Heart River
Dickinson Dam, ND.... Heart River
Angostura Reservoir, SD.... Cheyenne River
Cold Brook Reservoir, SD.... Cold Brook Creek
Smithville Reservoir, MO.... Little Platte River
Longview Reservoir, MO.... Little Blue River
Rathburn Reservoir, IA.... Chariton River
Long Branch Reservoir, MO.... East Fork Little Chariton River
Thomas Hill Reservoir, MO.... Middle Fork Chariton River
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August 1, 1985
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