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Nationwide ATLAS 14 update by NOAA gets temporary funding

June 1, 2022

The following article is an excerpt of Larry Larson’s article “Status Update on Better Rainfall Data,” within the Policy Matters section of the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) website.

ASFPM succeeded in getting federal funding to do a nationwide update that will include future conditions due to the efforts from its water resources policy expert David Conrad. He spoke with NOAA, NWS, Congressional staff and many others to help raise visibility of the issue.

Direct funding of NOAA in the recent bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) will be used to develop a comprehensive precipitation frequency Atlas for the nation completed in the next five years.

During the ASFPM Conference plenary, NOAA’s Acting Administrator Mary Erickson announced that the new nationwide update will be called ATLAS 15. NOAA says it plans to complete the first Atlas 15 within five years.

Updated rainfall data will provide communities with more accurate future estimates for better planning. The information will enable U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to add a future map layer to its flood maps “at some point.”

Since 2018 ASFPM has testified before Congress on the concerning issue of the National Weather Service (NWS) only developing new data for states that directly funded updates to the data.” The volumes were neither inclusive nor comprehensive. Discontinuities between data for adjacent volumes have been identified.

Even though the amount of funding needed to update the data and methodology is very low, no federal funds have been available for comprehensive, regular and systematic updates.

The association will continue to work to ensure that NOAA continues to update the data every five years, such that new flood maps will better reflect the new probability and frequency of floods.