2014 Hurricane Preparedness Week – Day 4
Coastal residents understand the dangers associated with hurricanes — heavy rainfall, high wind and storm surge can cause a host of problems. But did you know that the majority of hurricane-related deaths in the United States do not occur along the coast?
When these powerful storms move over land, they lose wind strength but continue to dump massive amounts of rain into streams, rivers and lakes — posing a serious threat of inland flooding. These floods account for more than 50 percent of hurricane-related deaths each year.
Hurricane Agnes in 1972 made landfall as a Cat 1 storm on the Florida panhandle and was quickly downgraded to a tropical storm. Unfortunately, Agnes collided with a low pressure system over the mid-Atlantic (which is the usual story with the big inland flooding cases) and heavy rains were the result. 122 people were killed in the floods that spread up and down the eastern US. Nearly 8 inches of rain fell in a short period of time across parts of West Virginia and total storm damages across several states topped $6 billion.
Before flood water rises, NOAA advises
The NOAA National Weather Service’s robust hydrology program helps protect the nation from the dangers of flooding by monitoring water levels in streams, rivers and lakes, and issuing forecasts and warnings to alert communities when floods threaten.
A major component of the hydrology program is a network of 13 River Forecast Centers spanning the country. These centers provide critical hydrologic information to meteorologists, community decision-makers, and partners in water resource management and flood planning so they can take action in their local communities.
Why is inland flooding from hurricanes such a threat?
More than 60 percent of U.S. hurricane deaths from 1970-1999 occurred in inland counties, with more than half of tropical hurricane deaths related to freshwater flooding. From what the past has shown, damage from inland flooding caused by these storms can often times run well into the billions of dollars — especially when a major metropolitan area is impacted.
By monitoring potential flooding disasters, the RFCs play a critical role in protecting lives and property during tropical events. Around 70 percent of all hurricanes that impact the U.S. make landfall in the Southeast River Forecast Center’s area of concern and are a major contributor to the total number of significant floods in the Southeast U.S.