Federal stream gauge information knocked out in 43 states

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — About 10 percent of a national network of 8,300 stream gauges used to measure potential flooding isn’t reporting information and workers are giving highest priority to fixing gauges where expected rainfall could cause flooding, officials said Friday.

The U.S. Geological Survey said it’s working with the National Weather Service and other federal, state and local agencies to determine which gauges in 43 states should get back online first.

Don Cline of the Geological Survey said a type of computer chip failed simultaneously in 1,100 gauges for unknown reasons about a week ago. The chips transmit information to a satellite.

“We know what happened; we don’t know why it happened,” he said.

Workers are replacing the chips starting with areas that could experience flooding in the next 10 days. Cline said to get all the chips replaced will take about two weeks, and workers are putting in overtime.

The areas of most concern, he said, include the Northeast where a nor’easter is expected, the Pacific Northwest where a pineapple express is moving in, the Gulf Coast due to Hurricane Willa that has weakened to a tropical depression but will likely bring rain, and the upper-Midwest.

Cline said it has been a wet four to six weeks in the Midwest and Eastern U.S., so additional rainfall has the potential to cause flooding. The stream gauges, if they’re working, can give emergency responders and residents advance warning.

“Our top priority is where there is already flooding or flooding anticipated or flooding possible in the next 10 days,” Cline said. “Our first objective is the protection of life and property from flooding.”

The publicly available stream gauge information is also used by city managers for safe drinking water, irrigation users, energy producers and water recreation enthusiasts.

Cline said the 8,300 stream gauges in the national system use a variety of hardware. He said it’s not clear why the 1,100 chips that are all the same type failed at the same time a week ago. Officials doubt the system was hacked.

“We don’t think so,” Cline said. “There’s no way for that to happen. They’re not open access. They’re not on the network or anything like that.”

He said the chips send information to the satellite but don’t get information in return.

He said the gauges are continuing to record information even though it isn’t being transmitted, meaning no historical information on stream flows is being lost.

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