FLASH floods are quick and deadly. At least 13 people died when a surge hit parts of Saudi Arabia earlier this month. Two years earlier, 123 were killed when thunderstorms dumped rain over arid land to the east of the Red Sea port of Jeddah, hitting the city with no warning. A drone monitoring system that tracks floods in real time would sound the alarm before the water hits.
Existing forecasting models are good at predicting roughly when an area might experience the right mix of conditions to create a flash flood, but they can’t say precisely when or where a flood will strike. Christian Claudel at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology outside Jeddah is working on a drone system that could give such cities between 30 minutes and 2 hours of warning, as well as predicting the flood’s path.
The goal is to launch a swarm of about 10 drones to automatically monitor a potential flash flood. The drones will drop disposable wireless sensors across the region at risk. If the sensors meet floodwater they will be carried away on the current, sending out a simple signal which the drones can track. The drones relay the sensors’ changing positions back to a central database, which builds up a model of floodwater flow.