Floods are one of the world’s most common and most destructive natural disasters and usually are an after-effect of natural disasters. In fact, 90% of all natural disasters are followed by flooding. Heavy rainfall, melting glaciers, hurricanes, storms, tornadoes and earthquakes can all trigger floods. .
To experience the devastations of floods, you don’t necessarily need to live in a high-risk flood zone. Regardless of where you live, floods can severely affect you. As the global climate is changing, there is a tremendous increase in the frequency of floods. Every year, floods are also becoming more intense and causing more damage to life and property.
The United States experiences floods very often. This is because the country is prone to many other natural disasters. Some of the interesting facts about floods in the United States are highlighted below.
Floods Can Occur Anywhere
Where there is water, there can be floods. This natural disaster can occur anywhere, anytime. In the United States, flash floods can occur in all 50 states. They are triggered by a preceding event like a hurricane or a storm.
The eastern part of the US often experiences hurricanes and severe thunderstorms. Both of these conditions can trigger flooding. On the other hand, the western part of the US is more prone to snow melts and heavy rainfall.
Flash Floods May Develop Quickly
Flash floods may develop is as little as six hours following the triggered event. In case of a dike or levee breakdown or the collapse of a dam, flash floods can occur within minutes. They may take slightly longer in case of excessive flow of river water through ice melts.
While heavy rainfall is one of the potential causes of floods, other natural disasters including hurricanes, storms, and snow melts can also lead to flooding.
Floods Follow Tornadoes
In terms of loss of property and lives, floods are the second most destructive natural disasters in the United States. Tornadoes are the only natural disaster that has caused more damage in terms of life and property compared to floods.
In the year 2011, the total damages from floods were $8.41 billion. As the intensity and frequency of floods have increased over the last few years, the damages also hiked.
Flooding is a “Top 5 Causes” of Weather-Related Deaths in the US
In the year 2014, flooding was the 4th leading cause of weather-related deaths in the US. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration collected the data regarding fatalities due to natural disasters for the years 1984-2013. The data revealed that the average deaths related to flooding were 85 per annum. This was highest amongst other natural disasters including tornadoes, lightning strikes, and hurricanes.
Floodplains Are Just 2% of the Earth’s Surface
Floodplains are areas that have a higher risk of floods. They are low lying areas near the rivers and other water bodies. Naturally, only 2% of the Earth’s surface can be categorized as floodplains. The rest of the surface of land also gets affected by floods, but not as much as floodplains.
Though floodplains experience extensive damage due to frequent floods, they play an important role in maintaining the ecosystem. Floodplains maintain the level of groundwater by absorbing flood water and releasing it gradually. They also provide clean water, wildlife habitat, and crops.
Wetlands Save Costs
Flooding incurs a major repair cost as it extensively damages property and infrastructure. In the US, wetlands save more than $30 billion in damage repair. Since wetlands act as sponges, they absorb and store excess water. As a result, flood water does not remain standing. A single acre of wetland can absorb up to 330,000 gallons of water. This volume of water is enough to submerge thirteen homes.
Apart from saving costs, wetlands play a crucial role in maintaining groundwater levels.
Floods are Becoming More Frequent and More Intense
Over the last few decades, the US has experienced major shifts in the weather. There has been a 20% increase in heavy rainfalls. Heavy rainfall has increased the frequency of floods. This, combined with the increased use of land, has intensified damages from the floods. The average annual loss from floods has increased from $6 billion in 2013 to $10 billion in 2017.
Considering the global climate change, scientists have predicted that the weather will further worsen in the United States. The size of the floodplains in the US will increase by 40% in the next 50 years. This can have devastating consequences on future generations.
Dikes or Levees Can Collapse
Civilizations have been residing around rivers for centuries. When the technology was limited, people living near rivers built levees or dikes. This was their only defense against overflowing floodwater. As technology improved and dams were constructed, people continued to rely on levees.
In the US, 100,000 miles of levees run across the nation. However, there is no record of the condition of these levees. An estimate of 40% of the population in the US lives in counties that still rely on levees. People now do not rely on levees for agricultural purposes alone; instead, homes and businesses are now constructed behind them. However, with the growing intensity of floods, levees are no longer a reliable option.
Heavy rainfall induced by climate change, along with the deteriorating condition of the levees, can pose a threat to the population residing near rivers and streams.