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Missouri Basin River Forecast Center: Three Quarters of a Century Providing River Forecasting Services

Missouri Basin River Forecast Center: Three Quarters of a Century Providing River Forecasting Services

75th Anniversary of the National Weather Service River Forecast Centers

On September 23, 1946, the NWS opened the first River Forecast Center in Cincinnati, Ohio (pictured here).  One week later, on October 1, 1946, the second River Forecast Center opened in Kansas City.

On October 1, 2021, the National Weather Service’s Missouri Basin River Forecast Center will celebrate its 75th birthday.  For three quarters of a century, the people working at the Missouri Basin River Forecast Center (MBRFC) have provided river forecasts for the protection of life and property in the north central United States.

In the early 1940’s, the US Weather Bureau had a vision to modernize river and flood forecasting services by establishing centers focused on hydrology.  In early September 1946, the US Weather Bureau announced that funds were available to begin implementing this vision.  Cincinnati and Kansas City were chosen to be the homes of the first two River Forecast Centers (RFCs) for the modernized river forecasting services.   These two centers were to be known as the “Ohio River Forecast Center” and the “Lower Missouri River Forecast Center.”  The Ohio River Forecast Center is older than what is now named the “Missouri Basin River Forecast Center” by about one week.

Over the past 75 years MBRFC has gone through several transitions relating to technology, science, and data.  The office has gone from making manual calculations with the aid of adding machines and slide rules, to using complex hydrologic and hydraulic computer models; from computing on remote, centralized mainframes to computer networks; and from batch-oriented computer models to interactive software.  In addition, there has been as explosive growth in both the availability and use of data.  Originally, weather and stream data were provided mostly by cooperative observers via telegraph, postcards, teletypewriters, and telephone. Today, MBRFC utilizes a vast data network composed of observers, telemetry, satellite and radar, all of which provide weather and stream information in near-real-time.  Various types of data are collected from more than 3500 sites across the Missouri River Basin.  Currently, MBRFC issues forecasts for more than 540 river and reservoir locations spanning ten states.

Since its establishment in 1946, MBRFC has provided river and flood forecast services for several historic events, including the floods of 1951, ’52, ’64, ’65, ’73, and ’84.  In more recent times, the staff was quite busy during the floods of 1993, 2011, and the catastrophic 2019 “bomb cyclone.”  These floods were driven by a variety of reasons, from heavy rainfall to snowmelt and even dam breaks. The center has been recognized inside and outside the National Weather Service for its forecasting and decision support efforts. 

Many things have changed since 1946 in technology, science, services provided, buildings, and people.   The MBRFC continues to evolve and engage, integrating new science and technology, as well as expanding its riverine decision support services to meet the growing needs of the people and communities it serves.  However, there is one thing that has always remained the same, the dedication of the hardworking people at the Missouri Basin River Forecast Center.  

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