Jones Completes Internship with National Weather Service

January 21, 2015

Student government president Derrick Jones helped assess the accuracy of a flood simulation model while interning for the National Weather Service in Jackson. The internship was his second at the National Weather Service as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Educational Partnership Program.

“The goal was to test the flood extent simulation model against the hydrologic branch sites,” Jones said.

The project, titled “Flood Extent Simulation: A Geographical Information System (GIS) river flood extent approach in Jackson, Miss.,” tested the accuracy of the Flood Extent Simulation Model (FESM) against hydrologic gauge stations scattered across the Southeast. Jones said that hydrologic gauge sites employ the most accurate methods for predicting the areas that will be affected by floods. The gauge sites contain physical sensors that are actually in the rivers and can measure inundation levels directly. Each site costs about $50,000 to construct, however, and takes up to two years to finish. States with a large number of waterways rely on a vast quantity of these gauge sites – Mississippi has 444, for instance.

The benefit of the FESM, on the other hand, is its utilization of lidar data and satellite imagery to produce flood prediction models without the prohibitive costs associated with hydrologic gauge sites.

Using ArcGIS, a geospatial mapping system, Jones was able to look at historical data on flood extent in several areas, including Hattiesburg, Miss., and Binghampton, NY. Flood extent data is data that either shows areas that have flooded or predicts areas that will flood in a given time span. ArcGIS allowed Jones to produce maps from both the hydrologic gauge site data and the FESM. He could then overlay the two maps and calculate the accuracy of the FESM by utilizing Cohen’s kappa coefficient, a statistical equation that measures agreement between data outcomes.

The kappa coefficient shows agreement on a scale between zero and one; typically, an outcome between 0.8 and one are considered favorable. Jones said that the FESM was 86 percent to 94 percent accurate throughout all flood stages.

Jones, a senior, is finishing his second year as a NOAA Educational Partnership Program Scholar. The program, which juniors Joshua Bailey and Ricky Dixon are also participating in, provides students with the opportunity to participate in paid internships at NOAA for two summers and offers them financial support throughout the year as well. To be eligible for the program, students have to maintain at least a 3.0 GPA and major in an area that supports NOAA’s programs and mission.

Jones wants to work in a STEM field and has considered government agencies such as the Department of Defense (DOD) and NASA, but he is not ruling out the private sector altogether. In the immediate future, he knows that he wants to go to grad school, and he has already been accepted with funding into Mississippi State’s master of science program in mathematics.

Since Jones enjoys studying math, he decided that going to graduate school is the best course of action for now. With a graduate degree, he surmises, he will be a more attractive candidate to employers. Eventually, he wants to get a Ph.D. in applied mathematics.