The Damage After the Floods

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The East Coast is under siege this week with widespread flooding. Seasonal flooding is common, but what’s unusual about this week’s storms is the sheer size of the area they cover; nearly 700 miles of coastline and cities farther inland are affected. As in other floods over the past several years—Houston comes to mind—the water is high enough that some residents have needed to be rescued from buildings and vehicles. Flash flood warnings are in effect for several states, and the rain will continue for much of this week. Some areas have received as much as 10 inches of rain so far.

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At least three deaths have been reported, two of them caused by falling trees. And, dangerous as the floods themselves are, the trees are a risk that remains long after the water recedes.

Farther west, storms have also caused flooding and closed roads, particularly in Colorado and New Mexico. Most of the western US, though, is still dry, with many cities hitting record-high temperatures and some states still considered to be in drought conditions.

Here’s where the two conditions converge, in an unlikely way—with the trees. The states that have had long-term drought are experiencing large die-offs of trees, which are first weakened by lack of water and then sometimes finished off by parasites or storms. California alone has lost more than 100 million trees, according to surveys done by the US Forest Service.
Trees that are damaged by wind or that have had their root systems weakened by flood waters are at risk even after the storms themselves are over. As this University of Missouri Extension guide shows, the steps we take to fix the damage are often misguided at best, and more likely to make the tree or its limbs fall at some unexpected time in the future. For example, topping a damaged tree—that is, drastically cutting back its branches as many people do after a storm because they think it will avoid falling limbs during the next high wind—makes it more likely that the tree will either die because it doesn’t have enough foliage, or will grow several small, weak branches at the site of the cuts. SW_bug_web

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  1. Your flood our flood. It is sometimes difficult for people in other parts of the country to feel much for floods that do not affect them. This is especially true when they have seen floods in their own areas.As a student of flooding on the Mississippi River, it is especially difficult for me to get overly concerned about most floods that I have seen in recent years.

    In 1927, the Mississippi River flood caused the evacuation of 500,000 people in Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. It caused in excess of $1Billion (1927) damage, and led to the greatest and most expensive flood control project in history. The Mississippi River at Memphis crested at 48.70 feet. The 1937 flood on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers were nearly as bad with the majority of the damage in the Ohio basin, the Memphis crest in 1927 was 45.80 feet. These floods occurred in what was then, and still is, mostly sparsely populated farm and wood land. They also occurred before the Flood Insurance program.

    As a tribute to the Corps of Engineers and their efforts, the 2011 flood crested at 48.03 at Memphis, and while there was a great deal of disruption, the damage and displacement was far less notable.

    The current flooding is, in more densely populated areas, and may eventually effect more people and property, but the sheer scope of the flooding pales in comparison to a river that grew from about three quarters of a mile in width to nearly 30 miles.

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