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Charting the waters: AI is changing how Vermont maps flood risks

Once called “hundred year floods,” severe flooding events in Vermont are becoming increasingly common. This past July, floodwaters swept through many Vermont towns and caused an estimated $1 billion in damage to homes, businesses and farmland. The flooding also led to two deaths.

Many floodplain maps are made by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If you have flood insurance for your home, it might be because one of these FEMA maps says your property is at risk. But many FEMA maps are out of date and only cover populated areas.

To really understand the flow of water, scientists agree we need to map more of our region.

Researchers at the University of Vermont are creating and training computer models to predict how water will flow through the landscape during a flood. They’re collecting data from floodplains across the Champlain Valley to feed their algorithms.

Their work is vital to engineers like Roy Schiff in Waterbury. He and his colleagues help Vermont municipalities develop flood resiliency projects.

These Vermonters are on the cutting edge of their field, and they’re working to help the state better prepare for what's around the corner.

How do they do what they do? We break it down in this video.

Made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, deepening its efforts to build the capacity of local PBS stations. And catch the connected NOVA documentary, Secrets in Your Data, on May 15 online and on broadcast.

Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
As a Producer, Mike helps cultivate and develop stories from and about our community for visual presentation. His 20 years of technical experience as a Director and Editor enables him to help deliver our content across multiple platforms to connect our stories to as many folks as possible.
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