New sensors in Ellicott City could help county predict flooding

Posted at 5:50 PM, May 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-22 19:29:44-04

After historic flooding caused millions of dollars in damage to Ellicott City homes and businesses, Howard County officials continue to work to prevent it from happening again. This time, they have announced the installation of sensors to better predict flooding to get warnings out faster. 

"I'm really excited. For me, the way I run my business is based off the data that we have. I think for them to have real life data to work with, I think that information will help them make decisions," Ellicott City small business owner Tammy Beideman said. 

Beideman had to relocate her boutique, Sweet Elizabeth Jane, after the 2016 flood. She was able to reopen a few months later, but not without a lot of hardships. 

"It is really a challenge to keep everything together, because we look like we are together on the outside but it’s a lot to go through to redo," Beideman said. "We had to redo everything, from buying new inventory to setting up new processes and new systems."

Almost 2 years later, there are more businesses downtown than there were before the flood. The county has also come together to make the city more resilient for the future. 

"The whole town didn't give up. What we've seen from the county is that they are with us," Beideman said. 

The latest project is a partnership with the Department of Homeland Security and the National Weather Service to install 48 advanced stream gauges at 16 locations throughout the Tiber-Hudson watershed to detect water levels. The goal is to get more data about how weather impacts the watershed so the county can become more predictive in flooding situation and get warnings out faster. 

"Improving our ability to predict weather and see the weather that's coming towards Ellicott City will definitely give us an upper hand in hopefully doing a better job of warning," engineer with the county's storm water management, Brian Cleary, said. 

Two similar gauges already exist in the area, but Cleary says this project will give them a lot more eyes in different locations. 

"It will change the way thins are here for a lot of these businesses," Beideman said. "The risk factor is pretty big so it could be really changing for us."

DHS gave the sensors to the county so that Ellicott City can be a pilot location for testing out the new low-cost technology. The data will be used not only to predict Howard County flooding, but support FEMA in protecting communities nationwide from disasters. 

The installation will start in June and the pilot will last 6 months to 1 year. Then the county can move the gauges to new locations if they choose.