Google is leveraging machine learning throughout all of its products from bilingual support in Assistant to productivity optimizations in Drive, and even to cool data centers. The company is now tapping AI to improve flood forecasting as part of Google Public Alerts.

Flooding — as evident in the direct aftermath of Hurricane Florence this month — is a worldwide issue with an estimated 250 million people around the world affected each year.

Flood forecasting can help individuals and authorities better prepare to keep people safe, but accurate forecasting isn’t currently available in many areas. And the warning systems that do exist can be imprecise and non-actionable, resulting in far too many people being underprepared and underinformed before a flood happens.

Google is leveraging AI and “significant” computational power to “create better forecasting models that predict when and where floods will occur.” This system incorporates historical events, river level readings, terrain and elevation. Maps are then generated and hundreds of thousands of simulations are performed for each location.

The result is a river flood forecasting model that can “more accurately predict not only when and where a flood might occur, but the severity of the event as well.” The left image is a standard flood simulation with publicly available data of a river in Hyderabad, India. The right uses Google’s models for a higher resolution, accuracy, and up-to-date information.

Google AI flood

Google plans on sharing this information as part of Google Public Alerts and has already issued forecasts in India.

We’re partnering with India’s Central Water Commission to get the data we need to roll out early flood warnings, starting with the Patna region. The first alert went out earlier this month after heavy rains in the region.

Over time, Google will expand these capabilities to other parts of the world. The company has issued tens of thousands of Public Alerts, while SOS Alerts have been activated in 200 crisis situations since launching last year, with Hurricane Florence being the most recent.

Google Public Alerts

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About the Author

Abner Li

Editor-in-chief. Interested in the minutiae of Google and Alphabet. Tips/talk: