As floods become more intense, local researchers search for way to better predict rising waters

BOSTON — Flash floods crippled the state of Vermont in July causing millions of dollars of damage and taking the life of one man.

This week, the city of Leominster was overwhelmed with rain damaging countless homes and cars.

Intense rainstorms are expected to become more frequent in coming years as warmer air holds more moisture.

Ian Cooke, Executive Director of the Neponset River Watershed Association, said flooding is already a major concern “and we can see in the future it’s going to be an even bigger problem.”

Cooke is working with 11 communities along the Neponset, which stretches from Foxboro to Dorchester, to update contingency plans to deal with rising waters.

“Communities really don’t have great tools to anticipate what these problems are going to be, like who’s going to be flooded in the future, and what communities need to be doing now to help reduce those impacts in the future.”

Flooding along rivers can be dangerous and destructive because it seems to happen so quickly. Now local researchers want to get communities to get warnings more quickly.

Northeastern University Associate Professor Sam Munoz won a grant to study what he sees as a weak link in anticipating local flooding.

It’s the lack of lead time.

“Right now, we use the forecast model and for something like extreme precipitation, a day or two of lead time, and so what’s missing is more lead time.”

After seeing the devastation in Vermont in July, there’s a new urgency to develop tools to predict heavy flooding.

“In New England, we’ve already detected an increase in really heavy rainfall over the last 30 years or so,” explained Munoz. “Our best prediction that we have for the future is that in a warming world, those heavy rainfall events are going to continue to increase.”

Lyndsay Lawrence, a Ph.D. student working on the project, added “We’re really kind of trying to identify, maybe there’s a new signal that hasn’t been discovered.”

The Northeastern researchers will use enhanced satellite imagery that’s becoming available as well as artificial intelligence to look for new weather patterns.

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