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Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5177

Prepared in cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency

Magnitude and Extent of Flooding at Selected River Reaches in Western Washington, January 2009

By M.C. Mastin, A.S. Gendaszek, and C.R. Barnas

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (10.4 MB)ABSTRACT

A narrow plume of warm, moist tropical air produced prolonged precipitation and melted snow in low-to-mid elevations throughout western Washington in January 2009. As a result, peak-of-record discharges occurred at many long‑term streamflow-gaging stations in the region. A disaster was declared by the President for eight counties in Washington State and by May 2009, aid payments by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had exceeded $17 million. In an effort to document the flood and to obtain flood information that could be compared with simulated flood extents that are commonly prepared in conjunction with flood insurance studies by FEMA, eight stream reaches totaling 32.6 miles were selected by FEMA for inundation mapping. The U.S. Geological Survey’s Washington Water Science Center used a survey-grade global positioning system (GPS) the following summer to survey high-water marks (HWMs) left by the January 2009 flood at these reaches. A Google Maps© application was developed to display all HWM data on an interactive mapping tool on the project’s web site soon after the data were collected. Water-surface profiles and maps that display the area and depth of inundation were produced through a geographic information system (GIS) analysis that combined surveyed HWM elevations with Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR)-derived digital elevation models of the study reaches and surrounding terrain. In several of the reaches, floods were well confined in their flood plains and were relatively straightforward to map. More common, however, were reaches with more complicated hydraulic geometries where widespread flooding resulted in flows that separated from the main channel. These proved to be more difficult to map, required subjective hydrologic judgment, and relied on supplementary information, such as aerial photographs and descriptions of the flooding from local landowners and government officials to obtain the best estimates of the extent of flooding.

First posted September 3, 2010

For additional information contact:
Director, Washington Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
934 Broadway, Suite 300
Tacoma, Washington 98402

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Suggested citation:

Mastin, M.C., Gendaszek, A.S., and Barnas, C.R., 2010, Magnitude and extent of flooding at selected river reaches in western Washington, January 2009: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5177, 34 p.




Meteorological Conditions Leading to the Flood

Flooding in Western Washington

Magnitude of Flooding at the Selected Reaches

Collection of High-Water Mark Data

Flood Inundation Maps



References Cited

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