An Iowa Watershed Approach project taken from above

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John stands in front of the Iowa River

Keeping Floods on Iowa’s Radar

The historic flood of 2008 impacted communities across Eastern Iowa, destroying homes and businesses. For John Brammeier, it was the beginning of a fascination with the weather.

During the worst of the flood, Brammeier remembers bringing food, water, and other essentials to his aunt whose house bordered the Cedar River. The interior of the house was destroyed and had to be entirely remodeled. The wreckage and his natural affinity for math and science drew Brammeier to pursue a bachelor’s degree in meteorology from Iowa State University and a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa.

John stands in front of the Iowa River

Brammeier works at the Iowa Flood Center located in the Stanley Hydraulics Lab

He works with Iowa Flood Center (IFC) Director Witold Krajewski, whose work using X-band weather radar to monitor precipitation is what drew Brammeier to Iowa. Krajewski maintains a network of four X-band radar units that collect data on precipitation and are being tested for possible use in flood-prone communities. Brammeier collects the radar data and compares them to information collected by IFC rain gauges across the state. He also experiments with the accuracy of the radars.

“The algorithms that are used for the data processing— there’s a lot of them out there,” Brammeier says. “I’m experimenting with a lot of them to see which one will give us the best results.” He explains that the Iowa Flood Center maintains rain gauges in many of the watersheds, so there’s a good chance that he can compare the radar data to the rain gauge information.

One of Brammeier’s other jobs is presenting the weather briefing at the weekly IFC meetings. He gives an update on the coming week’s weather based on forecast models to make sure everyone is prepared.  As for the future, Brammeier is interested in finishing up his degree and getting a job working at a weather agency.

John stands with his team

Brammeier (left) played several years with the Muscatine Riverhawks

Brammeier’s interests don’t end with meteorology; he spends his limited free time at his parent’s farm in Wilton, Iowa, or on the football field. As a semi-professional football player for the Muscatine Riverhawks, Brammeier says he is lucky not to have had an injury up to this point. Though it’s called semi-professional, the job isn’t paid, so those who do get injured and need medical attention pay for it out of their own pockets.

As far as the farm is concerned, Brammeier is still thinking about the weather.

“We’re doing a little bit of tillage today and we did some yesterday, but it’s still pretty wet so who knows if it’s going to work out.”

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Floodwaters in Eastern Iowa

Rare Fall Flooding Swamps Iowa

Normally, late August and early September are fairly dry in Iowa. Just how rare is the heavy rainfall that’s fallen across Iowa over the past 10 days?

To answer that question, Professor Gabriele Villarini, a faculty affiliate of the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa, worked with Assistant Research Scientist Wei Zhang to provide some context for the current rainfall situation. Zhang and Villarini are both part of IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering, where Villarini serves as director. He says that the extremely heavy precipitation is indeed unusual, as seen in the graphic (above) that covers the period between August 24 (when the rain started) and Sept. 5. It is based on a gridded rain gauge product.

Four maps of the upper Midwest showing recent rainfall using colors from blue to red.Here is Villarini’s interpretation of the graphics and the soggy story they tell:

  • Top-left panel: This panel displays historic average precipitation for August 24–Sept. 5 during the 1981–2010 period. This 30-year period is generally used to frame recent events in a longer-term climatological period. Take home: We would expect on average about 2 inches of rainfall or less in Iowa during this time period.
  • Bottom-left panel: This graphic displays the current observed precipitation in 2018. Take home: The current rainfall is much more than we would expect for this time of the year; some areas of eastern Iowa have values on the order of 8–10 inches.
  • Top-right panel: This panel shows the ranking of 2018 precipitation during this period with respect to the 1948–2018 period. The redder areas represent rainfall extremes, with values of “1” indicating that this year was the highest since 1948. Take home: The current rainfall is the largest on record (since 1948) in large areas of central and eastern Iowa.
  • Bottom-right panel: For the locations where precipitation this year was the greatest on record, we show how much greater the rainfall has been this year than the next largest year. For instance, a value of 80% indicates that this year was 80% larger than the second largest year on record. Take home: The rainfall this year is extreme, in some areas up to 80% larger than the second largest year.

For more information, visit the Iowa Flood Information System.

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