By Deborah Silliman Wolfe/College of Engineering
Chad Furl, a post-doc in the College of Engineering’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, was recently awarded National Science Foundation Rapid Response Research (RAPID) funding to study the massive flooding that took place along the Blanco River earlier this year. Numerous homes were swept away in Wimberley, Tx, nine people died, and 2 people are still missing after the flooding that took place in the small city located on the banks of the Blanco River.
“The morning after the flood I read the flood wave had overtopped I-35 near San Marcos, I knew immediately that this was a major event,” said Furl, who specializes in Texas Hill Country flood hydrology. “I started processing radar data and setting up models the next day and have been working on it since.”
Realizing that this was a once in a lifetime event, Furl knew that he needed to get out into the field.
“Engineers and hydrologists can do a lot from behind the computer, but nothing can replace an up close examination of the river and floodplain,” he said. “The high water mark and stream geometry data I’ve been able to collect will be useful to myself and others working on the flood.”
Wimberley is located in central Hays County in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, between Austin and San Antonio, only 16 miles from San Marcos. The center of Wimberley is situated at the confluence of Cypress Creek and the Blanco River, roughly 1,000 feet above sea level on the Edwards Plateau. Furl has been working gathering data along 125 spots along the Blanco River, from San Marcos to the headlands of the watershed which are located west of the town of Blanco.
“The data collected as part of the RAPID will be useful in calibrating and validating a hydrological model of the basin,” Furl said. “Once the model is working well we can examine any number of research questions. Specifically I’m interested in evaluating the hydrometeorological controls on flood wave propagation, understanding the rarity of the event, and examining the ability of our models to do real-time flood forecasting.”
According to Hatim Sharif, associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Texas leads the nation in the numbers of flood fatalities and, if the handful of big events such as major hurricanes and dam failures are excluded, Bexar County is #1 in the US for flood fatalities over the period between 1959-2015.
Being able to predict where and when flooding will happen, could save lives.
“The recent floods in Texas were unprecedented and caused loss of lives and huge damage,” said Sharif. “Chad’s project will document the impacts of these floods, examine the scale of the damage in areas such as Wimberley, TX, perform a forensic analysis of the consequences, and understand how and why these events have evolved. Forensic hydrology is relatively new and most probably this is the first NSF award ever on the topic.”
The NSF RAPID funding mechanism is used for proposals having a severe urgency with regard to availability of, or access to data, facilities or specialized equipment, including quick-response research on natural or anthropogenic disasters and similar unanticipated events. According to Sharif, the RAPID funding mechanism is used for proposals having a real urgency because they are developed as a quick-response research on natural disasters and unanticipated events.
“The decision on the RAPID grants has to be made quickly because the opportunity to perform the research and collect data may be lost if the typical lengthy review process is performed,” said Sharif. “So, the research idea has to be very compelling in order for NSF to make a quick decision.”
According to Sharif, Furl is the first full time postdoc in civil engineering and obtaining a prestigious grant in his first month of employment.
“This is a really major accomplishment,” said Sharif.