Satellite Images Can Forecast When Flooding Will Occur

Flood Hub gives an early warning to people in harm’s way.

Nov 2, 2023
Satellite Images Can Forecast When Flooding Will Occur | Flood Hub gives an early warning to people in harm’s way.

First there was Google maps and it changed the way people navigated via satellite imagery. Then there was Street View which stitched together billions of images to give people the ability to virtually explore most of the world. Now this technology is being used to help predict weather and flooding conditions to keep people safe.

Google’s Flood Hub uses satellite imagery, weather reports, and other publicly available data to predict what areas will flood to be able to give accurate warnings up to seven days before a flood event, according to a Google blog. This is vitally important at a time when natural disasters and extreme weather events are increasing due to climate change.

How Flood Hub was developed
Before the advent of Flood Hub, there was no way to accurately predict which rivers would flood and to give people adequate notice to evacuate. Floods often inundated villages and cities without any warning at all.

When Google decided to tackle this problem, it took five years of research and development to come up with a usable tool, Fast Company reported.

At first, Yossi Matias, vice president of engineering and research at Google told Fast Company, that the researchers didn’t know if they could come up with a viable solution because it involved understanding topography, soil types, and gauging how much water will reach a given area during a storm.

“This was really kind of a moonshot, in a way,” he said. “Can we use machine learning and other technologies in order to try to predict floods at some level of accuracy that would be valuable?” But they persevered and were able to work through these issues.

To create Flood Hub, Google used machine learning to develop a global model that uses thousands of satellite images and  data from rivers all over the globe, according to the company blog. Now there are two models used. The Hydrologic Model which forecasts how much water is in a river, and the Inundation Model which can predict the places that will be affected and how deep the water will be.

Circling the Globe
Flood Hub launched in India in 2018, and expanded to 18 more countries in 2022. Now, there are a total of 80 countries covered, including the US and Canada. The tool is now available in the areas that have the highest percentage of population exposed to flood risk and reaches a total of 460 million people.

The technology allows governments and organizations to take action to protect people and property. Flooding causes around $10 billion in damages every year and takes a huge toll on the lives of the people affected by it.
While Flood Hub is available to ordinary people with smartphones, in many areas people may not have access to the internet. That’s why Google partners with aid organizations and volunteers to get the flood alerts out.
Flood Hub is a part of Google’s Crisis Response work to provide people with important information and resources in the advent of natural disasters including earthquakes, floods, and wildfires. Timely information helps to keep people safe and out of harm's way.

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Bonnie has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.