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Today, many in Texas are dealing with the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Described as one of the heaviest downpours in U.S. History—one that unleashed more than 9 trillion gallons of water on Houston and Southeast Texas—it is also predicted to be one of the most expensive natural disasters in our history, with an estimated financial toll of close to $160B. Engineers continue to work hard to repair damaged dams and levees to move and release existing water before more heads their way from potential flooding and further rainfall expected north of the city and throughout both the Gulf and Mississippi Valley.
Here in California, we have our own plethora of natural disasters to worry about, but thankfully hurricanes have never been in the mix. My heart goes out to those who have lost their homes, lost loved ones, and will have to rebuild their lives after this devastating event.
It’s incredible how those of us so far removed from Hurricane Harvey’s path have been able to track this storm just as closely as those affected by it. Coverage of natural disasters and storm predictions have greatly improved over the years, all thanks to technology. Through new and advancing tech capabilities, we can predict pathways, track routes of a storm, and tap into ways to make a difference for those dealing with catastrophic events like Hurricane Harvey.
Technology and Meteorology Through the Years
Our society has come a long way in the field of meteorology, from using weather balloons, deployed into the sky each day to report on wind direction and temperature, to sophisticated technology built to study weather patterns. Today’s Doppler radar, satellites, telecasts, and the internet make the delivery of weather predictions more sophisticated and precise than in years past (even if it doesn’t feel that way some days).
Satellites give us global views of weather patterns for meteorologists to study and inform forecasts for storm preparedness, flight patterns, and daily reports. The Doppler effect used in the Doppler radar helps us envision motion in the atmosphere by interpreting incoming positive shifts in the signal and outgoing negative shifts. This makes it easier to locate the speed and force of a storm, cloud patterns, and precipitation.
With tools like these at our disposal, we can see large moving storm cells, such as Hurricane Harvey, coming our way and we have the tools to prepare, evacuate, and make a plan. Thanks to telecasts and the internet, we can also more effectively spread the word about these impending storms than we could in the past.
We can also better notify loved ones and communities that we are safe and accounted for, through apps and features like Facebook’s “mark yourself safe” add-on during a crisis like this. People on the front lines of disasters don’t have to call into local radio or TV stations to report what they see—they can take their own footage and photos and post them with hashtags for the situation in order for news stations (and people keeping up with the live feed) to track what’s happening in real time, from those in the thick of the storm.
Technology at Risk in Bad Weather
While we are better equipped to see these natural disasters heading our way, it’s difficult to predict the level of damage that may be inflicted. Despite the pre-storm news telecasted across the country, I’d wager no one guessed 9 trillion gallons of rainfall would be the result of Harvey reaching land.
In fact, multiple sources—from The New York Times to ABC News and beyond—have released a report by an MIT professor that explains how this level of rainfall used to be a one-in-1,800-years event for this area. Thanks to global warming, where warmer air locks in more moisture and adjusts currents, it’s now a once-every-300-years kind of storm.
This increased risk of devastation begs the question not only how individuals will prepare their homes and properties, but how technology providers can keep their servers and data centers that may fuel operations for thousands or millions of companies safe during these unforeseen events. Putting our faith in cloud options and remote data centers is a big risk as it is, considering threats and vulnerabilities regularly lobbied toward our information on the cyber level. Mother Nature, however, is a risk we don’t necessarily consider when choosing these options.
As of this morning, power outages across the Houston area are growing, up from yesterday’s report to more than 278K outages. Many large cloud or server providers in the area have not commented via their social media pages on the state of things—understandably so—and we can only imagine the damage this flooding has caused for these technology hubs.
How Technology Can Help
Thanks to technological advancements in money transfers, people can easily and quickly donate to those affected by this hurricane. United Way of Greater Houston, for example, is receiving donations through text. Simply send the message “UWFLOOD” to 41444. You can also reach the Salvation Army for donations by texting STORM to 51555.
GlobalGiving, a crowdfunding website used to connect donors to nonprofits, hopes to raise $2M for food, water, medicine, and long-term assistance. It’s currently (as of 11:50 a.m. PST on August 30th) raised $1,451,779 through social media efforts, word-of-mouth awareness, and large publications sharing their link to spread the word of their efforts.
Websites reporting on the status of Hurricane Harvey (like CNN) are linking to Public Good, a nonprofit site that makes it easy to donate money to causes you support who are dealing with this aftermath. All it takes is a simple click of a mouse or tap of a finger.
Here at Experts Exchange, we’re making it possible for our site experts to donate their T-shirts—earned through participation on site—to support Hurricane Harvey victims. The donation will be worth the value of the T-shirt, and experts can redeem as many as they want in support of this effort. Those with no shirts to redeem can offer their expertise, instructing victims who may have lost or damaged technology on best way to make repairs. Learn how you can get involved today.
We will continue to pray for those involved in Hurricane Harvey and will continue to search for ways we can utilize technology to make difference. How will you be helping the Hurricane Relief Efforts?