Learning to Live with Floods

We all know floods are not friendly. But the NWS and the nonprofit environmental organization Nurture Nature Center (NNC) are taking a new approach to flood education by accepting they are a part of nature that at times cannot be avoided, but can certainly be mitigated. This week’s 21st Symposium on Education will include a poster on the NNC/NWS partnership.
After a series of severe flood events in the Delaware River Valley, the NNC started “Floods Happen. Lessen the Loss,” an education program that emphasizes adaptation over prevention, acceptance over angst, and most importantly, education over ignorance. The program not only provides resources (including interviews with flood experts) and tools, but it also explores the deeper issues of how flooding affects communities and how those communities can live with and adapt to floods. This community-based approach to flood preparation is captured in this animated short film created by the NNC.

One of the key themes of the program is helping communities and individuals learn how to help themselves and then take the initiative to do so. For example, a new NWS flood warning system using Push technology sends out alerts to individuals’ e-mail addresses, internet browsers, and some cell phones . . . but only if the individual takes action and signs up for the alerts. (This link provides a how-to for signing up.) In this video, the NNC’s Rachel Hogan Carr explains how the program addressed another problem–the semantics of the term “100-year floodplain”:

The commonly used, but misleading concept, is the 100-year flood, which leads people to believe falsely that major flooding will occur only every hundred years on average. The truth is that even smaller storms can produce tremendous damage. In many areas along the Delaware River, the flooding in 2004, ’05, and ’06 was much smaller than a 100-year flood, but the damage was nonetheless extensive. And that’s just one problem with the term. The other is that many areas well outside the hundred-year floodplain are liable to flooding, too. In fact, nearly 30% of national flood insurance claims come from outside the 100-year floodplain, often in places where people thought they were safe. That’s why Nurture Nature has started using the terms high, moderate, and low risk to describe various regions of the floodplain.

The NWS/NNC collaboration now has a second initiative: the placement of NOAA’s Science on a Sphere at the NNC’s flood museum, and the creation of the first Science on a Sphere flood-related program, which will explain how climatic and oceanic changes are contributing to the increasing frequency and severity of floods throughout the world.