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A flash flood in Fort Worth? UTA researcher has an app for that

Reporting flooding with sensors and crowd sourcing

Engineers from University of Texas/Arlington install flood sensors on area creeks and launch a new Android app to gather observations from citizens to help deal with localized flooding. (Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison)
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Engineers from University of Texas/Arlington install flood sensors on area creeks and launch a new Android app to gather observations from citizens to help deal with localized flooding. (Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison)

Stormy weather is predicted across much of Texas over the next several days and a new weather app is designed to help with flash flooding.

On Friday, University of Texas at Arlington associate professor D.J. Seo is launching the crowdsourcing app, iSeeFlood, that will allow real-time flooding to be reported. Initially, it will only be available on Android phones, but Seo hopes to raise enough funding to develop an Apple version of the app.

App allows reporting of flash floods

The free app adds another layer to existing flood gauges and will work with the network of CASA (Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere) radars stationed across the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“We want to gather as many observations as possible through crowdsourcing to improve model prediction accuracy,” Seo said.

At the same, UTA is also adding weather sensors across Fort Worth to provide more detailed flooding information. On Thursday, one was placed above Sycamore Creek and it will provide data the next time the creek starts rising.

For small urban areas we need to have additional observations to make sure that the models are realistic or reasonable.

UTA associate professor D.J. Seo

“For small urban areas we need to have additional observations to make sure that the models are realistic or reasonable,” Seo said. “We are using these observations to assimilate all available data to make the model predictions more accurate.”

Ten sites are being monitored around the Fort Worth area. There are plans to add more in Grand Prairie, Dallas, Arlington and Kennedale.

One National Weather Service official said the sensors and crowdsourcing app can help forecasters predict flooding.

Anytime you give data to a scientist, it is going to be a good thing.

Greg Waller, West Gulf River Forecast Center

Greg Waller, senior coordination hydrologist with the West Gulf River Forecast Center, said flash flooding can be highly localized. In the April 30 flash flood that killed 6 people in Palestine, one creek rose rapidly while another nearby tributary stayed in its banks.

“Anytime you give data to a scientist, it is going to be a good thing,” Waller said. “A rain gauge adds the verification. It adds the validation so that when we say there’s flash flooding because this sensor in this creek says it’s flooding, it adds more meaning to the warning.”

With several rounds of storms expected over the Memorial Day weekend, Waller said drivers will need to pay attention not only in North Texas but if they’re traveling to Central and East Texas.

“If you’re along the river, you should expect the rivers to rise,” Waller said. “Right now, rainfall intensity may matter as much as the actual rainfall total.”

Bill Hanna: 817-390-7698, @fwhanna

Flood sensor locations

  • Fort Worth Sycamore Creek at Vickery Boulevard
  • Sycamore Creek at Sycamore School Road
  • Edgecliff Branch at Alta Mesa Boulevard/McCart Avenue
  • Wildcat Branch at Stalcup Road
  • Cottonwood Creek at Cooks Lane
  • Little Fossil Creek at Meacham Boulevard
  • Whites Branch at Basswood Boulevard
  • South Mary’s Creek at Lost Creek
  • Grand Prairie Johnson Creek at Duncan Perry Road
  • Bowman Branch at Mirabella Boulevard
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