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Dangers of Flooding: Is Your Town Prepared?

Arthur Dellea is a freelance PC expert who enjoys adventures with his wife and children, playing drums at church, and investigative writing.

How prepared is your town for flooding?

How prepared is your town for flooding?

How and Where Do Floods Happen?

Flooding occurs when water overflows over normally dry ground. Floods can occur when strong rains fall, ocean waves crash on the shore, snow melts quickly, or dams or levees fail. Flooding can be devastating with only a few inches of water or it can cover a house up to the roof.

Floods can happen in a matter of minutes or over a lengthy period of time, lasting days, weeks, or even months. Floods are the most common and widespread of all natural disasters caused by weather.

Flooding happens in every state and territory in the United States, and it is a concern anywhere there is rain. Floods kill more people in the United States each year than tornadoes, hurricanes, or lightning.

Flash floods are particularly dangerous in densely populated areas. The amount of rain absorbed by the land is reduced by the construction of buildings, roadways, driveways, and parking lots, which increases runoff. This discharge raises the risk of a flash flood.

Towns at High Elevations Also at Risk

Streams in cities and towns are sometimes diverted underground into storm drains. Storm drains can get overwhelmed or clogged by debris after heavy rain, flooding neighboring roads and buildings. Underpasses, underground parking garages, basements, and low water crossings are all potential death traps.

Hurricane Irene flooded Alford, Massachusetts in 2011, all of its roads were temporarily impassible due to flash flooding despite that this Southern Berkshire town is 839 feet above sea level.

Flash Floods: The Most Dangerous

Because flash floods combine the destructive power of a flood with extraordinary speed, they are the most dangerous type of flood. When severe rainfall exceeds the ground's ability to absorb it, flash floods occur.

They can also happen when water fills normally dry creeks or streams, or when enough water accumulates to cause streams to overflow their banks, resulting in rapid water increases in a short period of time. They can occur within minutes after the precipitation that caused them, limiting the amount of time that can be used to alert and protect the population.

The Yellowstone flood in June 2022 is a good example of flash flood damage in an area that seldom experiences major flooding. Even on dry terrain, heavy rainfall can cause floods. Most canyons, minor streams, and dry arroyos in the West are not clearly identifiable as a source of danger.

The precipitation that causes the problem can happen upstream of the canyon, trapping trekkers. Floodwaters can carry fast-moving debris, posing a serious threat to human life. Recent burn regions in the highlands, as well as urban areas with runoff-enhancing pavement and rooftops, are all high-risk areas.

Levees and Dams Must Be Maintained

Floods are a danger in areas near rivers. Embankments, also known as levees, are commonly erected along rivers to keep high water from flooding adjacent land. Many levees along the Mississippi River broke in 1993, resulting in severe flooding.

Due to the breakdown of levees built to safeguard the city, New Orleans saw tremendous and disastrous flooding days after Hurricane Katrina hit the coast in 2005.

Dam failures can cause a flood of water to rush downstream, causing havoc. A dam break upstream from Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1889 unleashed a 30-40 foot wall of water, killing 2200 people in minutes.

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Thunderstorms Create Rapid Runoff

Rapid runoff is produced by mountains and steep hills, causing streams to surge swiftly. Rocks and shallow soils prevent much water from percolating into the earth. Soil saturation can also result in fast flash flooding. If there are thunderstorms in the vicinity, camping or recreation beside streams or rivers can be dangerous.

If a rainstorm persists over an area for an extended period of time, a creek barely 6 inches deep in mountainous areas might expand to a 10-foot deep roaring river in less than an hour. Thunderstorms that create significant rainfall can occur far upstream from the damaged area, making it difficult to notice a potentially perilous scenario.

Melting Snow and Ice Jams Create Flash Floods

Flash floods can be exacerbated by ice jams and runoff. The amount of runoff produced by melting snow is increased when the snowpack is deep. Flash flooding can occur when heavy spring rains fall on a melting snowpack. Floods caused by ice jams on creeks and rivers may be exacerbated by melting snowpack.

During the winter, thick layers of ice often accumulate on streams and rivers. Melting snow and/or warm rain may raise and break this ice, causing enormous chunks of ice to jam against bridges and other buildings. As a result, the water level behind the ice jam rapidly rises.

If the water is discharged rapidly, severe flash floods may occur downstream. Huge ice pieces can be driven onto the beach and into homes and buildings.

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Public Transportation at Risk

Transportation departments are in charge of planning and coordinating federal, state, and municipal transportation projects, as well as establishing safety laws for all main forms of transportation.

The Department of Transportation warns drivers not to drive through flooded roads because a car can float in just two feet of fast-moving water. If emergency responders are summoned to rescue motorists who ignore traffic control signals, those who drive around obstacles designed to restrict a road may face enhanced penalties.

It is possible that Department of Transportation personnel and contractors will need to access private property to perform emergency repairs to protect damaged roadways and bridges and reopen closed roads.

The Department of Transportation may contact property owners to request permission to enter their land for this purpose. The public's help is much appreciated, as it speeds up the Department of Transportation's flood recovery work. Many of these critical projects could be delayed for up to a year if private landowners do not cooperate.

Being Overprepared Is Key

In flood-prone areas, all waterway and transportation infrastructure must be built to resist the effects of future floods. Because much of the infrastructure in the United States is decades old and in poor shape, it is prone to flooding. Floods have become more frequent and violent in recent years, exposing more places to a flood.

Most facets of company operations, including supply chain stability and workforce availability, are influenced by the robustness of the nation's infrastructure. Flooding poses a hazard to national security as well.

Flood protections that are stronger across the country will prevent damage, lessen the need to rebuild after floods, and potentially save taxpayers billions of dollars in the face of more expensive storms.

Replacing and/or upgrading structures to handle at least twice the expected maximum flood limits would certainly decrease the failures of said structures under extreme circumstances, but would require extensive funding to make these changes on a nationwide scale.

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© 2022 Arthur Dellea

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