Snowmelt Flood Forecast Impact Study


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Thank you for visiting the additional information of the NASA’s satellite-enhanced snowmelt flood forecast in the Red River of the North Basin project.

We are an interdisciplinary research team composed of researchers at the University of New Hamphire (Principal Investigator (PI): Dr. Jennifer M. Jacobs), North Dakota State University (NDSU), the US Army Corps of Engineers and the North Central River Forecast Center of the National Weather Service.  This website provides examples of some new satellite imagery used to help improve the quality and reliability of spring flood forecasts for the basin.  

Additional information on the new forecast product can be obtained from Dr. Jennifer Jacobs via email at or by phone at 603-862-0635. If you have any question about the survey, please feel free to contact either (1) Dr. Siew Lim via email at or by phone at 701-231-8819, (2) Dr. Yue Ge via email at or by phone at 701-231-8819, or (3) the NDSU Human Research Protection Program at 701-231-8995 or 1-855-800-6717, by email at, or by mail at: NDSU HRPP Office, NDSU Dept. 4000, PO. Box 6050, Fargo, ND 58108-6050.   

Funding for this research was provided by NASA ROSES (Project #: 13-WATER13-0036).

Satellite-enhanced Snowmelt Flood Forecast

Reliable spring flood forecasts are critically important for flood preparations and response efforts in the Red River of the North basin. In the past, forecast errors had led to inadequate flood preparations that resulted in tremendous damage and losses and overspending of taxpayer’s dollars in flood response.

River forecast models for the region estimate the amount of runoff a precipitation or snowmelt event generates, compute how the water will move downstream, and then predict the flow of water at a given location throughout the forecast period.

To forecast precipitation or snowmelt events, the river model requires initial state variables (e.g., information on snowpack, snow covered area, soil moisture, etc.) and uses both observed and forecast precipitation and temperature to predict the river levels. Unfortunately, the region has relatively sparse observational data for snow and soil moisture.

However, satellite remote sensing can detect these hydrological states at increased spatial coverage and temporal coverage compared to currently available observations. Additionally, the NASA satellite products have a proven track record of providing reliable information in the Northern Plains.

The NASA satellite products that can be used to improve the flood prediction models include snow water equivalent, snow melt phase, snow covered area, etc.

Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) Maps

The SWE maps below show the amount of snow water equivalent (SWE) in the Red River basin (RRB) April 4-10, 2018 as seen from a microwave satellite instrument orbiting the Earth. As the satellite passes over the basin, SWE in the RRB is measured almost anywhere in the basin every day.

Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) Maps (April 4-10, 2018)

Snow Status 

The satellite-based snow status maps below provide the river forecaster a means to identify whether the snowpack is melting relative to the previous satellite observation. The data shown is from April 4-10, 2018. The maps show locations where snowmelt is present in red. Areas in which new snow has fallen are in blue and areas where snow conditions have not changed since the last satellite measurement are in white. Identification of snowmelt patterns from space is very important because rapid snowmelt creates a flooding risk downstream.

Snow Status

Daily SWE and Snow Status

Accurate measurement of SWE and identification of snowmelt patterns from space is a crucial step now taken by the North Central River Forecast Center to improve the snowmelt flood forecast in the Red River basin. This technology and the use of satellite measurements of snow water equivalent in the snowmelt flood forecast has not been used before in the U.S.

The video below covers daily SWE and snow status for the period Oct 26, 2017 - Apr 30, 2018.


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