ODU researchers developing interactive model for Hampton Roads flooding

ODU researchers developing interactive model for Hampton Roads flooding

NORFOLK, Va. — How do you plan for a 100-year flood, Nor’easters or hurricanes? Some researchers in Hampton Roads are working on interactive technology to show just how extreme weather events will impact the area decades down the road.

Hampton Roads residents and visitors are no stranger to rising water. Some described the flooding last week.

“I was really surprised when I first drove around this area how many intersections were completely flooded and you just have water flying everywhere,” said Will Napier of Norfolk.

That’s why Old Dominion University researchers are working on a “digital twin” computer model of Hampton Roads. The project is funded by a $1.2 million grant from NASA.

“The simulation would be like going into a time machine in the future, the state of Hampton Roads. To be determined, 10, 20, even 30 years into the future,” said Dr. Thomas Allen, professor of geography at ODU.

Dr. Allen said it’s a more comprehensive approach than previous models.

Sensors, drones and satellite imagery will feed real-time data into a simulator. Soon researchers, city planners, emergency managers, and health professionals will be able to interact with and trial out different scenarios. The scenarios could show users what the area would look like when data points intersect. Researchers hope it could answer questions like: what happens to the area in 30 years during a hurricane with sea level rises and changes to the infrastructure?

Researchers hope city planners, emergency managers, and health professions will be able to use the data to practice how we plan for and respond to weather events.

“It basically lets us make better decisions about the future rather than learning hard lessons on the fly,” said Dr. Allen.

Researchers have placed flood tracking sensors in areas across Hampton Roads. Dr. Allen said there’s a special focus on areas that have not often been studied for flooding.

“This will also let us know if there’s an equity environmental justice dimension of this. As is may not only affect the major artery boulevards . . . but also in the neighborhoods across the region, across different cities. Some that haven’t experienced this hazard yet,” said Dr. Allen.

Dr. Allen expects the prototype will be completed by next year.

There are a few other “digital twin” simulations in development across the globe too, including one in France.

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