HOW ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE COULD PREVENT NATURAL DISASTERS
ON MAY 27, a deluge dumped more than 6 inches of rain in less than three hours on Ellicott City, Maryland, killing one person and transforming Main Street into what looked like Class V river rapids, with cars tossed about like rubber ducks. The National Weather Service put the probability of such a storm at once in 1,000 years. Yet, “it’s the second timeit’s happened in the last three years,” says Jeff Allenby, director of conservation technology for Chesapeake Conservancy, an environmental group.
Floods are nothing new in Ellicott City, located where two tributaries join the Patapsco River. But Allenby says the floods are getting worse, as development covers what used to be the “natural sponge of a forest” with paved surfaces, rooftops, and lawns. Just days before the May 27 flood, the US Department of Homeland Security selected Ellicott City—on the basis of its 2016 flood—for a pilot program to deliver better flood warnings to residents via automated sensors.
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