He got his chance when Dave Mayfield, a retired newspaper reporter formerly with The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, approached the Virginia Institute of Marine Science about creating a project to raise awareness about climate change and the consequences of sea-level rise in the area. Together, they launched Catch the King in 2017. They assembled a team to design an app called Sea Level Rise, which lets users map high-water marks with their smartphones.
And then they got the word out through local media. In their inaugural year, more than 700 volunteers turned out to map the king tide—landing the effort in the Guinness Book of World Records as the environmental survey with the most contributions ever—and Loftis used the data to validate his street-level flood-forecasting model.
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Hundreds of volunteers have shown up for Catch the King each year since (including about 200 this year, despite the pandemic) to help Loftis refine his forecasts. “The more data we have, the better we will be at facing the challenge of sea-level rise and climate change,” he says. But that’s only a part of the problem solved. Another big challenge for him and other forecasters is to ensure that their high-resolution, detailed forecasts are available with enough notice for residents and governments to take action before flooding begins.
Currently, Tidewatch provides detailed forecasts up to 36 hours in advance. Ideally, by constantly refining his models, Loftis hopes to make reliable forecasts as much as 72 hours ahead of time. Another flood-forecast system developed by researchers at George Mason University provides similar forecasts up to 84 hours in advance for residents in the Washington, D.C., area.
Other vulnerable parts of the U.S. want in on the action. “Knowing where it might flood two or three days ahead of time—that would be incredibly valuable,” says Peter Singhofen, CEO of Streamline Technologies, and an expert on Florida flood models. “We can evacuate people; we can maybe change the way we operate infrastructure like water-pump stations to potentially prevent flooding in some areas or protect property and lives.”
The Google Flood Forecasting Initiative has also made advances. The project has global ambitions, but for now, Nevo’s work has focused on the monsoon-prone Patna region in northeast India. Last year, the model provided accurate flood warnings in advance for incoming monsoons and cyclones—a major step forward for the region. In June, Google expanded its forecasts to encompass all of India, and it’s beginning work on forecasts for Bangladesh.
Being able to better understand how climate change might affect flood patterns is critical, says climate scientist Megan Kirchmeier-Young of Environment and Climate Change Canada, a government agency that coordinates environmental policy. “As we continue warming, we will see continued increases in the frequency and severity of heavy rainfall over North America,” she says—and that means more flash flooding.
Loftis anticipates that these changes are right around the corner for the Norfolk area. As water levels rise, more streets will become inundated, or even impassable, over longer periods of time. All of this means that creating an accurate flood forecast is a never-ending job as the rising water line of the Atlantic slowly but surely claims increasing swaths of coastal cities.
This post appears courtesy of Knowable.