WeatherZine WeatherZine Number 4, June 15 1997
"What's happening on the Societal Aspects of Weather WWW Site."


Will We Learn the Lessons of Grand Forks?
Meet the New Webmaster

Community NewsThe U.S. Weather Research Program is off and running

New Additions to the WWW Site Subscription & Posting Information


Will We Learn the Lessons of Grand Forks?

Unless you have been spending time on Space Station Mir or some other news vacuum, the April 1997 flooding in North Dakota and its subsequent political impacts have been hard to miss. However, in spite of all the media attention, we risk letting the most important lessons of the Grand Forks disaster evaporate into history.

About two months ago, communities in the Red River of the North basin, which flows north into Canada along the North Dakota/Minnesota border, experienced record flooding. Record flooding was also experienced in other parts of Minnesota. The most extreme societal impacts occurred in the neighboring towns of Grand Forks, ND and East Grand Forks, MN where significant portions of the two communities was submerged under flood waters. Preliminary damage estimates total more than $1 billion.

We have much to learn from the experiences of those in Grand Forks — about topics such as flood insurance, forecasting, flood-fighting, inter- and intra-governmental coordination, the media, disaster relief, etc. It would make sense to conclude that the lessons of this particular case can go a long way toward improving societal responses to floods in the Red River basin and elsewhere. Yet, it seems that in the recent past, lessons drawn from floods events are not particualrly well-incorporated into local, state, or national flood policy. How else can we explain the fact that essentially the same causes account for flood disasters that we have seen over the past five years?

A study of the Great Flood of 1993 (S. Changnon, ed., The Great Flood of 1993: Causes, Impacts, and Responses, Westview Press, Boulder, CO) came to much the same conclusions, stating that "thoughtful past recommendations of how to attain flood mitigation have not been adequately implemented."

The Grand Forks disaster will be closely examined by various federal agencies, non-profit organizations, and physical and social scientists. Within about a year, there will be numerous reports, reviews, and studies which distill important lessons from the event. An unanswered question is to what extent the lessons drawn from Grand Forks will be incorporated into the process of flood policies in the Red River basin and beyond.

One "meta-lesson" that should be drawn from the recent spate of flood disaters of the 1990's is that to improve our state, local, and national flood policies, it is not enough to draw lessons from them; those lessons must be incorporated into actual decision making.

Perhaps a first step in that difficult process of improving the linkage of knowledge to action is to think more broadly about lessons. Clearly, someone must assume or be given responsibility to ensure that lessons are considered in particular processes of decision, once things "get back to normal." Otherwise, we risk perpetuating a situation where our policies fail to reflect the depth and breadth of the knowledge that we have gained from much experience and suffering with the impacts of floods.

— Roger A. Pielke, Jr.

[ Contents ]

Meet the new WebMaster

Baat Enosh will now be administering the technical aspects of the site. Baat has been working with the Environmental and Societal Impacts Group for almost a year now, keeping up the home page and putting up new publications. She is currently pursuing a Computer Science Degree at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Baat would really love to hear from you, so please share your suggestions or comments with her at

[ Contents ]

Community News

The U.S. Weather Research Program is off and running

What makes a good weather forecast? According to Rit Carbone, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, it has to be more than accurate and reliable; it must be specific. "We're forecasting isobars on the weather map pretty well," says Rit, "but they don't describe a line of thunderstorms or a severe frontal rainband. These are the things that affect people's lives, not the presence of low pressure. We have to predict the right phenomenon at the right place. When Philly gets the weather forecast for Baltimore, it can be worse than having no forecast at all."

A better forecast for the general public — as well as for weather-sensitive economic sectors — is the ultimate goal of a very complex multiagency program finally gaining steam after years of tepid financial support. Rit is lead scientist for the U.S. Weather Research Program (USWRP), which held several key organizational meetings at NCAR last month.

High on ambition but low on direct funding, the USWRP is attempting to leverage and coordinate current research at its participating laboratories. The directors of 23 labs or divisions within NOAA, NASA, the Naval Research Laboratory, and NCAR assembled on 15-16 April to discuss research now under way that could be coordinated to help meet USWRP goals. Two weeks earlier, a group composed mainly of social scientists and end users met to discuss how weather information is used and where USWRP energies might be focused for the societal benefit (see Weather Impacts Workshop report).

Meanwhile, NSF's Stephan Nelson is helping to administer new and reprogrammed funds contributed by all participating agencies for fresh research tied to USWRP goals.

Visit a more thorough description of the USWRP program at:

[ Contents ]

New Additions to the WWW Site

Emergency Management

[ Contents ]


[ Contents ]


[ Contents ]


[ Contents ]

[ map | home | feedback ]