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.”

Drier forecast reduces flood risk on UI campus Now,Published on: October 11th, 2018

Iowa Conservationists Call For More Flooding Protection Funding Public Radio ,Published on: September 6th, 2018

The Buzz: A Quarterly Newspaper Army Corps of Engineers,Published on: September 6th, 2018
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.

Flood Center researcher awarded artificial intelligence grant from Microsoft Now,Published on: December 11th, 2017

Demir Wins Microsoft’s ‘AI for Earth’ Grant

Ibrahim Demir of the Iowa Flood Center (IFC) at the University of Iowa (UI) has been awarded a grant from Microsoft as part of its “AI for Earth” program. Dr. Demir is an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering who also leads the Hydroinformatics Lab at the University of Iowa. He will use the award to develop “Flood AI,” an artificial intelligence system that serves as a virtual flood expert (similar to Siri). Flood AI is accessible through many smart devices, including smartphones, chat applications such as Skype, smart home devices, and more. Users can ask Flood AI any flood or weather related question and get a quick answer.

It’s like talking to a friend who happens to be a flood expert, Demir says.

AI for Earth is a Microsoft program aimed at empowering people and organizations to solve global environmental challenges by increasing access to AI tools and educational opportunities, while accelerating innovation. Via the Azure for Research AI for Earth award program, Microsoft provides selected researchers and organizations access to its cloud and AI computing resources to accelerate, improve, and expand work on climate change, agriculture, biodiversity, and/or water challenges.

Demir is among the first recipients of AI for Earth, which launched in July 2017 after a competitive and selective grant process. Microsoft awarded the grants in recognition of the potential of the work and power of AI to accelerate progress.

“Ibrahim’s work is part of the foundation of the Iowa Flood Center’s service to Iowans,” says IFC Director Witold Krajewski. “He is the chief architect of the Iowa Flood Information System, which puts the IFC’s innovative flood-related tools and information in the hands of all Iowans.”

The Iowa Flood Center is based at IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering, a UI research institute focused on fluids engineering. IIHR Interim Director Gabriele Villarini says Demir’s work is on the cutting edge of hydroinformatics — the art and science of providing data and information directly to users through online systems. “Ibrahim continues to break new ground,” Villarini says. “His work directly serves Iowans by providing the real-time information they need to make informed decisions when flooding occurs.”

When flood events happen, people need information — no matter what the time of day or night. Demir says that Flood AI—available 24 hours a day—will be like talking to a friend who happens to be an expert on flooding. Flood AI will support the Iowa Flood Center’s mission to provide flood-related information and technology that is immediately useful to Iowans.

To date, Microsoft has distributed more than 35 grants to qualifying researchers and organizations around the world. Today, Microsoft announced its intent to put $50 million over five years into the program, enabling grant-making and educational training at a much larger scale.

More information about AI for Earth can be found on the website: