States With Most Flood Deaths Show There Are Severe Risks From Flooding All Around The Country
Flooding in Houston earlier this week claimed the lives of at least 15 people in Texas and six in Oklahoma. The National Weather Service noted that there is a chance of storms in Houston for the next six days. Meanwhile, millions of Americans are preparing as meteorologists have expanded storm warnings across seven states, according to United Press International. Which raises the question, which states have had the most deaths due to floods?
That answer can vary by year. Last year was a relatively safe year for flash floods. According to National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, there were 38 fatalities due to floods in 2014, well below the 10-year average of 78 deaths. Texas topped the charts with six fatalities in 2014, followed by Kentucky and Indiana, which each had three fatalities in 2014.
But 2013 saw a very different situation. The National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration found the number of flash and river flood fatalities for 2013 totaled 82, what it called a dramatic increase from the 29 lives in 2012 and far above the 10-year average of what was then 75 deaths. Of the 82 deaths in 2013, NOAA found 37 were killed in a vehicle, likely in an attempt to cross a crowded road. Flash floods like the one in Houston caused 50 deaths in 2013, while river floods caused 22 deaths. Men were more likely to be killed by floods than women in 2013, with floods killing a total of 50 men and 32 women.
But historically, which states have the most deaths due to floods? A University of Texas study ranked flood fatalities by state from 1959 to 2008. (Hurricane Katrina statistics were not included.) Bustle then added the fatality counts for 2009 through 2014 using annual data on flood fatalities released by NOAA.
Here are the states that had the most fatalities due to floods between 1959 to 2014.
Texas leads the nation in the number of fatalities due to flash and river floods, with 883 fatalities reported between 1959 and 2014. The figure is more than three times than that of the state with the second highest number of fatalities. The chief cause of the deaths? People trying to drive through high water. According to a 2010 study by the University of Texas, San Antonio, most flood-related deaths in Texas are in a vehicle. As the researcher Hatim Sharif explains, drivers often have trouble discerning how deep a flooded intersection really is, especially when it’s at night or still raining.
According to NOAA's Tom Graziano, the tragedy of such vehicle-related flood deaths is that they can be avoided. Graziano said, "A lot of times when you approach a water-covered roadway you don't know how fast the water is moving. You don't know how deep it is. You don't even know if there's a roadbed underneath. In fact, it only takes about six inches of moving water to sweep a person off their feet, and as little as two feet of water to sweep an automobile, including SUVs, downstream.”
At least two of the victims in the Texas floods this week were in a car; a 31-year old man in Houston was found near a submerged vehicle according to Yahoo News, and an 18-year old homecoming queen, Alyssa Renee Ramirez, was swept away in her car while driving home from prom, according to Fox 8.
At 254 fatalities, Pennsylvania is the state with the second highest death toll due to floods. According to the Knight-Ridder News Service, Pennsylvania is the one of the most flood-prone states in the nation. Why? Rivers and high water. Three major rivers basins run through the state: the Susquehanna, Delaware, and Ohio rivers. A 2011 flooding of the Susquehanna River due to rainfall from Tropical Storm Lee saw the river rise to a record 42.6 feet, according to Reuters. The lack of consistent levees and dikes throughout Pennsylvania made the problem worse for some communities. According to PennLive, hydrologists found that the very levee that protected Wilkes-Barre and other towns down the Susquehanna River might have made the problem worse in other areas, causing the penned-in Susquehanna River to rise faster, since it couldn’t expand across a wider space.
California’s geography and climate guarantees that the state is prone to every kind of natural disaster and weather event, and floods are not the exception. The Golden State ranks third on the list, with 254 fatalities. Even though California is in the middle of a dry spell, many point out the flooding in Texas came after a nine-year drought. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued an El Niño advisory on May 14 that said there was a 90 percent chance that El Niño will continue throughout the summer. Why does that matter? El Niño and floods in California go hand-in-hand. According to CNBC, California had a significantly wetter rainy season during moderate to strong El Niño events.
“Pineapple Express” storms pounded Northern and Central California back in February and caused severe power outages and flooding, according to NBC News. California is seeing more signs of a wet season; The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this week that San Diego is having its wettest May in 94 years, and Los Angeles saw nearly four times its average May rainfall.
But according to The Los Angeles Times, the storm that actually puts an end to California’s record-breaking dry spell may come in the form of an atmospheric river storm. Atmospheric rivers can carry 15 times times as much water as the Mississippi River and deliver half the state’s annual precipitation between December and February, according to The Times. The drawback? Such epic storms unleash floods and landslides.
As Texas ramps up its flood control efforts in light of this week's storm, there's no telling which state will experience the next flood disaster. But as history indicates, as far as natural disasters go, floods can be incredibly devastating.
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