Maybe it's not nature that causes our issues with natural disasters. Sometimes we have a hand on it too.
For the last 15-20 years Alabama has been known as tornado alley. It's known for one of the deadliest tornado days in history during the April 2011 tornado outbreak. This super outbreak lasted for 3 days, 7 hours, and 18 minutes with the highest winds that went to more than 200 mph on Hackleburg and Phil Campbell, Alabama. The damages of this outbreak surpassed the $10 billion mark and unfortunately took more than 300 lives and 3000 injuries.
As you can imagine tornado awareness and preparation have been very crucial and is the flavor of the hurricane season so much that flood threats were sidelined, if not fully benched at the back of people's minds.
However, a question we have been getting a lot lately; what should we all be asking too, is flooding in Alabama increasing? If so, then why is it happening?
In this article, we're going to take a look at some recent flood events throughout the state and see why these events might have occurred. We are also going to look at some things that might be contributing to flooding in Alabama.
Alabama and Flood
In order to understand to answer these questions, we want to look at the recent data we got on flooding across the state from the last 3 years as these historic floods can really show the changes happening to flood in Alabama.
May 2018, the United States was ravaged by Tropical Storm Alberto even before the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season. This disaster event caused both Alabama and Florida to be in constant flash flood warnings due to how strong Alberto was. Now, this was one of the biggest storms that the country faced, but for this article, we want to focus on its impacts on Alabama.
Alabama faced more than 3.5 inches of rainfall and in Cloverdale, this even went up to more than 8 inches. Ever since the storm started to cause heavy rainfall to the country, Alabama faced a lot of issues when it comes to floods. This caused a lot of flooding and winds that we've seen strong enough to have localized tree damages within the state.
September 2018, Alabama faced another headache through Tropical Storm Gordon. Eight counties were in a state of emergency during this period. Brighton faced about 4 inches of rainfall and the state also saw a number of floodings during the storm event. Dauphin Island faced a storm surge of 3 to 5 feet causing minor flooding. Further inland, we've seen rainfalls going up to 8 inches which caused a lot of streets to seem like rivers, dirt roads being washed away, and flooding in several rivers.
October 2018, Hurricane Michael caused catastrophic $25 billion in damages across the country, but to Dothan, the strong winds and heavy rainfall were just the beginning. Farmers faced a lot of trouble on their livelihood as their expected great batch of cotton crops was turned to nothing. Orange Beach was also flooded due to the Hurricane.
In July 2019, Hurricane Barry dumped more than 8 inches of rainfall in Fairhope city. Mobile County also saw most of its roadways underwater due to coastal flooding and torrential rainfall overwhelmed the sewer systems that it spilled over 80,000 gallons of floodwater into the streets.
In December 2019, Tennessee and Alabama faced huge flash flooding after a record rainfall where the former saw 2.5 inches of rainfall. This, unfortunately, took two lives, one for each state. Lauderdale saw its roads also submerged with this flood.
February 2020, strong to severe storms was expected to go through the state. This caused power loss for about 5,000 people at the time, damage to Highway 43 and County Road 54, and sadly taking one life.
This storm also saw water coming over banks that evacuation efforts needed to be done in Crescent of Lakeshore Apartments in Homewood. The same apartment saw cars with only the top of it above water. The overflow in Shades Creek also saw Lakeshore Trail look like a river during the storm.
September 2020, Hurricane Sally dumped 30 inches of rain in Orange Beach, Alabama. This caused storm surge flooding to occur in Dauphin Island. We also saw flood damage in Spanish Fort where one gas station was completely destroyed after being inundated with water. This was also enough to have some sewer systems overflow contaminating Dog River and Rabbit Creek. Overall damages from this disaster were well over $300 million and took two lives in its wake with one missing.
For years Mobile and Baldwin counties have been known as the main flood areas. These are Alabama coastal areas that can receive flooding from tropical systems.
Simply put, these counties are ones that experience much stronger storms due to coastal storms they experience and deeper floods since one of the known coastal flood risks are facing that water level rise significantly due to heavy rains.
Are Floods Increasing?
Now, we've seen how progressively worse flooding has been changing throughout recent years. This is also the same when it comes to the cost of flooding when it comes to damages to properties. This immediately answers the question, but the more important is the follow-up: Why?
It's important to acknowledge that storms, weather patterns, extreme heat, and extreme rain events are results of climate change and we've already covered this in our previous blog. Today, we want to focus on a more unnoticed contributor to flooding across Alabama: development efforts.
The United States has been consistently becoming more urbanized, this means that most of the areas where there is natural vegetation, trees, and flora are being removed, graded, and then these efforts will simply build a drainage system that generally streams into natural bodies of water like lakes or in this case with Alabama, creeks, rivers, and coasts.
Generally, an untouched area where the flora or plants aren't interfered with can collect 90% of the rainfall as a resulting impact of storm systems. However, due to these types of developments, it can go down to only absorbing 10% of it.
In 2003, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) researched on this and found that heavily urbanized areas, including ones that are still being developed, saw a 100% increase in large floods and a 200% increase in smaller floods. The depth of flooding is also impacted as we are experiencing more overflows due to channels like drainage or sewer systems being overwhelmed by floodwater. This type of issue puts low-risk properties at risk of facing floods that they've never experienced before.
The research also found that floods in areas where developments cause sediments to somewhat clog water channels and as we've discussed before with Flood Zone AO and causes of flooding in low-risk flood zones, the water is being redirected to another area and mostly ones that are heavily populated.
The chance of flood is also directly impacted by these developments if we're not putting the right channels for water to naturally flow. Once this type of water, which should be scattering and being sipped by the soil, starts to rapidly flow into communities. What was before shallow flood events can easily become biblical flood events for those who are impacted.
This research shows future projections of what we can expect in the near future if we're not careful. This is why it's always important to understand flood maps and check with flood risk modelers to understand how a development project can cause problems for the natural flow of floodwaters.
If you have questions on flooding in Alabama, how to utilize your flood insurance policy to protect yourself, what are your flood insurance options, or anything about flood, reach out to us. Remember, we have an educational background in flood mitigation and we want to help you understand flood risks through education and awareness in flood insurance and preparedness.