New Orleans Stalls Heat and Rain Damage with IoT

Living in the Big Easy means living with the good and the bad weather of a subtropical climate. IoT sensors are helping the city track flooding and high temperatures to protect residents in danger zones and revitalize neighborhoods through better planning and development.

“Don't you just love those long rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn't just an hour - but a little piece of eternity dropped into your hands - and who knows what to do with it?”

When Tennessee Williams was describing rainy Louisiana days in his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” he was likely holed up safely in a bar or at home in his French Quarter apartment. Wherever he was, he’s absolutely right. Spring rain on a balmy afternoon in New Orleans is idyllic. The torrential rain that regularly plagues the Crescent City in hurricane season, not so much.

New Orleans, with its below sea level location on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast, has always struggled with flooding. The problem crashed onto the nation’s center stage when Hurricane Katrina hit the city in 2005, but flooding happens regularly with every big tropical storm system.

Capturing a Flood of Data with IoT

City planners are pushing back on nature’s steady deluge with an automated flood warning system to alert drivers and residents of flooding areas. The High Water Detection System from High Sierra Electronics is installed at 12 underpasses throughout the city, continuously monitoring rainfall and water level data in real time. The sensors are located under bridges that have a history of flooding during heavy rains. When measurements exceed their thresholds, the system automatically triggers road closed signage and beacon lights to alert drivers to the flooding hazard.

IoT sensors collect a range of data to measure real-time rate of rainfall, rainfall total, temperature, and wind speed. All data is delivered to Contrail Web-based software where it is analyzed and assembled into informative dashboards. City personnel can track activity through the dashboards, and the system sends automatic alerts to specific personnel and emergency responders so they have advance warning. In tandem, the flood warning system provides information and updates to the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans, and the National Weather Service.

Screenshot of flooding activity

Image credit: High Sierra

The city is making huge investments in smart city resources to make New Orleans more resilient to flooding. The High Water Detection System cost approximately $650,000. Stats from the mayor’s office record additional investments of $300 million toward hazard mitigation and resilience projects, $2.4 billion to restore damaged infrastructure, $5 million for residential green infrastructure, and $14 billion for a Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System and SELA drainage projects.

Communities Tell Their Climate Change Story through Heat Maps

Rainfall isn’t the only data point that New Orleans is measuring. The ISeeChange.Org is sponsoring a related program leveraging weather data collected by citizens. ISeeChange is a social media platform that collects data and shares stories about climate change. In 2017, ISeeChange gave residents in New Orleans’ Gentilly neighborhood no-tech rain gauges to collect and measure rain. That data, collected from time stamped images, provided support for a new $141 million green infrastructure project.

Man installs IoT heat sensor on telephone pole

Image credit: MCCI

Riding the success of its rain gauges, ISeeChange is upgrading to low-cost sensors to measure another New Orleans weather challenge: heat waves. The MCCI sensors are 7-inches tall and installed on utility poles throughout the St. Bernard neighborhood to collect temperature, humidity, and ambient light data, and they transmit the data in real time over a LoRaWAN from The Things Network. In a similar project, ISeeChange is creating heat maps based on data collected from volunteers who drive selected routes through New Orleans collecting heat measurements with sensors.

Long term, the heat data will help quantify the impact of activities such as planting more trees that maximize air flow and measure the benefits of green infrastructure. It will also be used to support the New Orleans Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness efforts to develop a localized heat alert system.

Building Better Urban Neighborhoods with IoT

While technology can’t prevent heat waves or flooding, it does have the power to make conditions better for those who live in harsh weather regions. Collecting and analyzing weather data can lead to smarter decisions about which dangerous roads to avoid and infrastructure planning that creates healthier, more livable communities. When city managers have accurate, essential information at hand, residents can worry less and have more time to enjoy the pleasure of a lazy, rainy afternoon.