Flood mappers accept Suffolk volunteers

Published 9:36 pm Monday, February 4, 2019

Volunteers are charging their phones and getting ready to help map flood areas in Suffolk for Catch the King.

Catch the King is a Hampton Roads flood-mapping team that started in fall 2017, when 1,100 photos and 53,000 GPS data points were crowdsourced from hundreds of phones in one day during the king tide — the highest tide of the year, according to Derek Loftis, an assistant research assistant at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point.

Volunteers went out with their cellphones again on Oct. 27 to learn how to map the extent of flooding events in Hampton Roads using the SeaLevelRise mobile app that was developed for these events by Norfolk-based Concursive Corp. for Wetlands Watch.

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This helps prepare for more significant flooding caused by hurricanes, nor’easters, heavy rainfall and wind tides. The plan is to have these citizen-scientists flood-mapping on a regular basis throughout the year, Wetlands Watch Executive Director Skip Stiles said.

“What we’re trying to do now is not just do that one day’s event, but get people out on a constant basis so we can get even more information on where it floods,” Stiles said. Wetlands Watch works with state and local organizations to develop innovative land-use models for Virginia tidewater communities to protect wetland resources as the sea levels rise.

Users are able to go to consistently flooded areas they’re familiar with, then drop flood GPS pins into the app to mark the extent of tidal inundation. They can also take notes and pictures to upload as well.

“People know more about what’s going on in their neighborhood than the city does,” Stiles said. “It’s kind of like Crime Watch. (They’ve) got their eyes on the water.”

Loftis uses this data to calibrate his models to improve their accuracy in predicting the extent of flooding during events like Hurricane Florence in September or Hurricane Michael in October, the only two flooding events last fall that exceeded the king tide, he said.

“We develop hydrodynamic models, (and) in this case they’re predicting the movement of storm surge,” he said. “We take data from these types of events and check whether or not our data accurately predicted the (next event).”

According to Catch the King Volunteer Coordinator Qaren Jacklich, 91 people have signed up for monthly mapping in Hampton Roads and several nearby cities. The organization also partners with schools for teachers to organize flood-mapping excursions with their students.

Catch the King and Nansemond River Preservation Alliance was at the Flip the Switch event at the North Suffolk Library on Jan. 26 to recruit for Suffolk Catch the King.

“We’re hoping to beef it up to 10 to 15 people that will map on a regular basis,” Jacklish said.

Suffolk’s team captain Kelly Hengler and Jacklish are actively accepting volunteers, working with local organizations and arranging small groups for training sessions on how to use the app.

“We want all of Suffolk to feel involved,” Hengler said.

Visit kingtide.whro.org or catchthekingtide@gmail.com for more information.