Sensors help researchers track, predict flooding in Hampton Roads

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GLOUCESTER POINT, Va. (WAVY) — We see a lot of water in the Hampton Roads region.

Most people probably don’t think too much about the scientists working to track it and predict future flooding. However, their research could help you.

There are more than 50 water level sensors all across Hampton Roads.  

“Most of these are mounted on bridges over open waterways and they’re remote sensors,” said Dr. Derek Loftis, a researcher with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

The sensors are part of StormSense, which is a program created by researchers at VIMS.

“It essentially has an on-board GPS and a data-logger that allows us to read out what is the water level coming from this sensor before it goes directly to the cloud,” said Loftis.

They’re placed in spots across the region and the technology automatically shares data every six minutes.

Loftis said, “That also allows us to figure out what were the water levels while everyone was sleeping.”

VIMS received federal funding for some of the sensors in 2016. The rest are shared by either the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the U.S. Geological Survey. 

And the cities maintain them.

“They help validate the accuracy of our models,” said Loftis. 

Water tracking sensors and systems have been in place for years — but Loftis says StormSense is a network that continues to expand, so the information becomes more accurate and more localized.

“So we better understand exactly what the trends are at that particular station and what you can see in the future,” said Loftis. “So the more gauges we have, it allows us to better understand in specific tidal creeks, not just the inlet to the major river mouth.”

Some cities, like Newport News and Virginia Beach, are already using StormSense data to alert citizens to water levels in their area. The program helps people avoid areas that are flooded, whether its during severe weather or just tidal flooding. Plus, having a greater sense of flood risk could mean money saved on flood insurance.

Loftis said, “Those are very tangible benefits that citizens can receive without even knowing the system exists.”

Of course, the scientists hope you do know about it so you can be weather aware.

The data from StormSense feeds into another program: Tidewatch.

“Tidewatch then integrates that information and can tell you up to 36 hours in advance whether there’s likelihood that those type of events will occur,” said Loftis.

It’s their way of forecasting tides and flooding. The more sensors there are, the better the data gets — and the more prepared you can be. 

Loftis said, “With denser networks, we have a better understanding of where flooding is happening.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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