Tennessee’s military department is planning to fund flood preparedness tech — including a ‘mesonet’
Flood preparedness may be the top safety priority in Tennessee next year.
The Tennessee Department of Military requested about $5 million during a budget hearing with Gov. Bill Lee last week to develop “flood preparedness tools.”
There are two tools. About half of the funding will be used to create new flood models for every county by studying how water will move through the physical features of each area — potentially displacing the standard 100-year or 500-year floodplain maps, which are widely considered outdated and inaccurate.
The second tool will be focused on early warning systems for storms like floods and tornadoes. The department is proposing to fund a “mesonet,” which is a statewide network of weather stations that record continuous, real-time data on rain rates, wind speed, soil temperature and more. This information allows weather forecasters to essentially see what is happening at the ground level, in every county, as opposed to relying on radar estimates from thousands of feet in the air.
“If we had this preparedness tool, what would have happened in Waverly?” Gov. Bill Lee asked during a budget hearing last week.
Lee was referring to a now-infamous flood: On Aug. 21, 2021, nearly 21 inches of rain fell in the town of McEwen, eventually washing down a creek into Waverly and killing 20 people. The storm set a new daily rainfall record for a non-coastal state.
On the day of that flood, the rain began after midnight. The National Weather Service issued its first Flash Flood Emergency at 7:47 a.m. But the “vast majority” of rainfall fell between 5:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m., a report released several months later found.
“Having an array of sensors could help us better understand the rainfall that we’re facing and … target warnings better,” said Patrick Sheehan, the director of the Department of Military.
Earlier this year, the Tennessee legislature considered a bill that would have funded a mesonet. The bill had unanimous support but was ultimately tabled.