Meteorologist heads Carmel Valley-based team developing economical flash flood early-warning systems

By Arthur Lightbourn

Veteran meteorologist Bob Jubach and a small band of engineers and scientists are quietly working away in their offices on High Bluff Drive in Carmel Valley to provide Flash Flood Early Warning systems for 800 million people around the world.

Jubach (pronounced “Ju-bah”) is general manager of the nonprofit Hydrologic Research Center (HRC) established in 1993 by civil engineer/hydrologist Dr. Konstantine Georgakakos, HRC director, to help bridge the gap between scientific hydrology research and its real-life applications to help the world with its water- and weather-related problems.

In recent years, HRC’s work has taken on increasing relevance and importance as climate change contributes to conditions that result in more frequent and more extreme flooding worldwide.

Although floods may result in lower death tolls than wars and earthquakes, floods still kill hundreds of thousands each year and cause massive devastation.

One of the deadliest forms of flooding, other than tsunamis, is the flash flood that can erupt in minutes during hurricanes and torrential rain storms with incredible force accompanied by tons of sediment and debris that sweeps away everything in its path.

Jubach, with his staff of 10 engineers and scientists, is managing and developing HRC’s international Flash Flood Early Warning systems.

The initiative for the program arose after Hurricane Mitch in 1998 that wrecked havoc in Central America, particularly Honduras and Nicaragua, taking almost 19,000 lives, many in flash floods, leaving 2.7 million homeless, and causing an estimated $6 billion in damage.

“Through our research here,” Jubach said, “we’ve developed a system that can be implemented in a very inexpensive, sustainable way, over large areas and large regions, especially in least developed countries with little resources for predicting, or forecasting or even knowing a flash flood has occurred.

“We use data from satellites, remote sensing for measurements of rainfall, and whatever available data on the ground from rain gauges and so on and combine and assimilate the information into a software system to determine the potential for flash flooding at any point in time.”

We interviewed Jubach, 62, in his office at HRC.

Jubach is a relaxed laid-back guy with a touch of gray who clocks 120,000 to 150,000 air miles a year setting up HRC’s computerized early warning flash flood systems, integrating the systems with local data and providing training for in-country weather forecasters to use the systems.

HRC’s early warning systems are currently up and running in southern Mexico, Haiti/Dominican Republic, Romania, Djibouti, the Republic of South Africa, a growing number of countries in Southeast Asia, seven countries in Central America, eight countries of Southern Africa, and eight countries in the Black Sea Middle East regions.

The software computer systems are designed to provide 800 million people sufficient warnings of approaching flash floods so they can do whatever is necessary to save their lives and possessions.

“What we provide for the forecaster are the data and information they need to be able to make a decision on whether to issue watches, warnings or alerts for flash floods,” Jubach said.

The systems, in the majority of instances, are funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.

Jubach was born in Ellwood City, Penn., just north of Pittsburgh, and grew up in a family of four children in Dixon, Ill. His father was production superintendent in a cement plant.

Asked what got him interested in meteorology, he said: “I grew up in Illinois. We had lots of weather there. There was always something — tornadoes and blizzards — and it got me interested in the weather.”

Then, at Penn State, “I saw they had a program in meteorology and I thought that had to be better than engineering where I started.”

After earning his B.S. degree in meteorology in 1971, he was drafted and served a year in the Army before starting his career as a meteorologist with NUS Corporation, providing meteorological consultation to the nuclear power industry; later with the U.S. Regulatory Commission; and returning to NUS in 1979, he represented the Department of Energy as a launch support meteorologist at Cape Canaveral for two shuttle launches (the Galileo spacecraft to Jupiter and the Ulysses spacecraft to a polar orbit mission around the sun).

Immediately prior to joining HRC in 2005, Jubach served as a consultant to the International Activities Office of the U.S. National Weather Service.

Asked his opinion on global warming, he said: “Can you make that [question my opinion on] ‘global climate change’?”

“All I can say is, and this is my own personal opinion, I’ve seen quite a bit of change, especially in the last five years in the countries I work in, the nature and intensity of these events that we’re seeing — heavy rainfall … in areas that hardly ever gets rain and in the other normally rainy parts of a country, Pakistan, for instance, nothing. I see this pattern change and especially I see these short duration, heavy rainfall events, which we never saw that much before.”

In his opinion, he said, “The climate is changing. There is no question.”

The cause of the change, he is not prepared to say, “but I do believe that humans have an influence on it. And we may be providing just enough of a push to go over the tipping point at some time.”

More information on HRC and its work is available on its Website:

www.hrc-lab.org

Quick Facts

Name:

Robert W. Jubach

Distinction:

Meteorologist Robert Jubach is general manager of the Hydrologic Research Center (HRC), a Carmel Valley-area nonprofit dedicated to bridging the gap between scientific research in hydrology and its real-life applications for solving worldwide water- and weather-related problems.

Born:

Ellwood City, Pennsylvania; and grew up in Dixon, Illinois

Education:

B.S. degree in meteorology, Penn State University, 1971.

Family:

He and his wife, Marcy (nee Heinz) have been married 41 years. They have two grown children, Meghan, a former actress living in Santa Monica, and Derek, a website designer in Maryland.

Interests:

An avid fan of college football and basketball.

Physical regimen:

“Mostly just walking; used to play a lot of racquetball and basketball, but I’m getting too old for that.”

Favorite getaway:

Home. In his work, in the last two years he has logged 270,000 air miles, so when he can, he relishes spending time at home.

Reading:

He’s a big Stephen King fan and is currently reading a collection of King’s shorter works.

Favorite TV:

“30 Rock,” repeats of “Seinfeld,” and news shows.

Philosophy:

“I try to be tolerant and not judgmental” especially of other countries and cultures.


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