Rain Returns & It’s No Sweat in Seattle with RainWatch

bus-reliant traffic in Seattle a city that plans for rain.
Image: Pixabay

Collaborative innovation created RainWatch, a predictive tool that has helped Seattle proactively address rain events neighborhood by neighborhood.

After a dry summer, rain is beginning to fall and recharge aquifers and waterways. In some places, like Fayetteville, N.C., the rain from the last few days has caused part of the Hope Mills Lake dam site under construction to wash away. The rain has washed out roads, stranded vehicles, flooded homes and closed schools throughout the Cape Fear region. Dozens are requiring rescue.

It’s hard to predict where rain is going to fall and how it might affect each area in a municipality, or is it?

In Seattle, Wash., the return of September rain brought more in five hours on September 1st than the entire month of August. But that’s business as usual for one of the cloudiest cities in one of the cloudiest states. It makes sense that the city would pioneer the Seattle RainWatch program, an emergency-management and climatology tool that allows the city–from public works and public safety to its department of transportation–to proactively respond to flooding problems.

Storms like the one on September 1st are expected to cause streets to flood and sewers to backup and overflow. So how does RainWatch help?

Innovative technology like Seattle's RainWatch helps the city of Seattle proactively address challenges from its winter rain.

Image: RainWatch Screen Capture

RainWatch converts radar imagery data into rainfall rates and then calibrates those rates with rain-gauge data gathered from an on-the-ground network of sensors. Seattle uses RainWatch’s rainfall accumulation data to learn how much rain is falling in a specific location, and where in the city a storm is heading.

Customer 3-1-1 calls and wastewater system overflow data support RainWatch, and help to define how rainfall affects the city neighborhood by neighborhood.

RainWatch makes the city more resilient. With this tool, the city can quickly clear a neighborhood’s drain pipes before rain hits. Or, notify the public with specific heavy rain precautions–like a construction project that could be affected, such as the one the city of Fayetteville is dealing with today.

Michael MattMiller, Seattle’s chief technology officer, recently told American City & County that RainWatch is the city’s best technology successes from an innovation perspective because it can develop “hyper-local weather predictions.”

RainWatch also part of the Seattle’s larger climate change adaptation and resiliency planning. The city incorporates climate assessments into infrastructure project design to ensure that investments meet the city’s future needs.

Learn more about RainWatch and the cross-sector collaboration that created it on the Intersector Project website.

About the author

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox is Editor of EfficientGov.com and Senior Editor at Lexipol. She is based in Massachusetts.