Weather Wednesday – Flood Awareness Week

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This week has been designated Flood Awareness Week by the National Weather Service. Each year flooding is responsible for the deaths of dozens of people in the United States and thousands worldwide.

2014 was a relatively safe year in the United States because of a lack of tropical storms and hurricanes, yet 41 people were killed by flooding. We’ve all heard the phrase “Turn around, Don’t drown!” That is well-taken advice because of the 41 fatalities last year, 27 were in vehicles. Just a few inches of water can sweep a car away. Never drive into a flooded area.Slideshow1 Even if you think you know the street or highway well, it is possible some of the pavement was washed away by the tremendous force of flood waters. Driving into water at night and during other periods of low visibility such as heavy rain is especially dangerous.

We’ll talk about preparation and recovery in later posts, but this awareness week is a good time to talk about protecting lives. The 2014 fatalities were fairly evenly split between areas east and west of the Mississippi River. More males than females died and Texas’ six fatalities were the most of any state. In the first two months of 2015, five people have been killed by flooding.

The National Weather Service has a robust flood safety web site.

There are three major types of flooding…flash floods, river floods and coastal floods. All cause fatalities each year and it would be difficult to consider one more dangerous than another, although, by its very nature, flash flooding can catch its victims unaware. The National Weather Service issues advisories, watches and warnings for each of the types.
During this time of year, river flooding is common and while it is usually well forecast and expected, the force of that flooding needs to be respected. River status maps such as the one below and forecast maps are available through the Weather Service.Clip1These maps are also part of a suite of tools available as part of the Next48 project of the Extension Disaster Education Network which was created by Tom Priddy and colleagues at the University of Kentucky.. You can customize the maps you want to see in your state by visiting the Next48 web site.

There are also special considerations for people living downstream from known hazards such as large dams and other types of impoundments. Be aware of these threats and know how local authorities intend to issue warnings should a dangerous situation occur.

There have been many tragic incidents over the years where campers and cabin dwellers have been washed away by flash flooding. Never camp in unapproved areas. It is tempting to set up camp along a river or stream. If you do, be aware of weather upstream that might cause a rapid rise in water levels. Have an exit strategy. Plan how to get to higher ground in a hurry. If authorities order an urgent evacuation, leave your belongings behind and leave immediately.

Slideshow2Floods are a known and common threat. With a little common sense and advance planning, you can avoid becoming a number in the 2015 statistics.

 

WEATHER WEDNESDAY: The Pineapple Express

With apologies to our friends in the Boston area, some of whom have faced snowfall totals of nearly 5-feet in the last two weeks, we turn our attention to the west coast this week. We’re adding the term “Pineapple Express” to our glossary which so far this year includes Arctic Clipper and Blizzard.

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Atmospheric River from NOAA

A Pineapple Express is defined as a river of moisture fueling heavy rainfall and snowfall events in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California. The atmospheric moisture often passes through tropical regions of the Pacific Ocean including Hawaii, hence the name, “Pineapple Express.”

In the past week leading up to this publication date, notable heavy rains have fallen in Northern California repeating a scenario from December of last year. Rainfall totals of in excess of four inches to as much as eleven inches were common in the latest multi-day event. And while some local reservoirs are seeing a positive impact, the snowpack was not significantly affected so the storms are not considered a drought buster by any means.

Technically, a Pineapple Express is related to the Madden-Julian Oscillation, a major weather influencer that scientists are attempting to more thoroughly understand. The “river of moisture” may actually circle the globe in a 30 to 60 day cycle. Scientists are unleashing the power of supercomputers to enhance their knowledge of this and other atmospheric patterns.

Some of the threats and challenges associated with the Pineapple Express as it impacts the west coast of North America include:

  • Heavy rainfall
  • Flooding
  • Landslide
  • High Winds
  • Snowstorms
  • Severe Weather including isolated small tornadoes
  • Travel disruptions

Meet a Delegate Monday: Pat Skinner

Michelle Bufkin, AU Agriculture Communications Student/EDEN Community of Practice Social Media Assistant, recently interviewed EDEN delegate Pat Skinner. 

Pat Skinner photo

1. How did you first get involved with EDEN?

In fall of 1997 the LSU AgCenter disaster mitigation and housing programs convened a conference in New Orleans called “Breaking the Housing Disaster Cycle.” Joe Wysocki, then program leader for CSREES housing education, mentioned that he was working with a North Central Region (NCR) committee called EDEN. EDEN’s three-year NCR committee life was coming to an end and the members wanted to explore taking the concept national. They joined our conference and – at the end – asked if Louisiana would take the leadership and begin expanding the membership. I became the first national chair and webmaster in January 1998.

2. Can you tell us a little about your role in disaster preparedness in your state?
My role in disaster management is primarily about risk appreciation and mitigation. I came to Extension in the early 1990’s for the specific purpose of conducting an education program associated with a river commission project to raise five structures “slab-n-all.” That program was funded by FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) for Hurricane Andrew. I had no Extension experience, but lots of experience with floods and the federal flood programs, primarily the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

In the late 1990s I led another project in which we developed and coached flood mitigation task forces in fifteen SE Louisiana parishes. The task-force project introduced our Extension agents to parish floodplain administrators (FPAs), and introduced both our agents and FPAs to their emergency managers and occasionally to local voluntary organizations active in disasters. The 1997 conference that brought EDEN to New Orleans was part of this task-force project.

My primary program since the 2005 hurricanes (Katrina and Rita) has been creation of an Internet-based Enterprise GIS system that provides flood- and wind-hazard information for any point in Louisiana; the point is specified by a user placing a pin in a map manually or by address lookup, using road and aerial base maps for reference. At www.LSUAgCenter.com/Floodmaps we host, read and interpret the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) of the NFIP for the entire state. We read the Basic Wind Speed (BWS) at a location from another Internet service we built for this application. We give the user ground elevation (consumed from the US Geological Survey), which the user can compare to Base Flood Elevation (BFE) on the FIRM to get an idea of how deep the 100-year flood would be at their point of interest. We even draw them a picture using our BFE Scenarios application. The BWS and BFE information is essential to people making building and restoration decisions because the statewide building code adopted in 2006 requires buildings to be designed and built to resist damage from these hazards.

Currently I have the privilege of managing a comprehensive disaster mitigation program that for the first time engages 4-H youth.

3. What was a highlight from your term as EDEN chair?
The highlight of working in Extension is always getting to work with really good, selfless people on a mission. That would be true for the early EDEN days, and still today. As I see how subsequent chairs have managed and led and hosted meetings I am horrified at what I didn’t know back then. But these are forgiving folk.

Louisiana took the leadership because EDEN asked us to. I took the lead role because my boss said I should. He believed in me, even though – or perhaps because – I knew nothing about Extension. I was unencumbered by notions of what was and was not possible at any level. So I guess the highlight was simply that over those early years we moved forward.

4. Can you tell us about the role you currently hold with EDEN?
My official role in EDEN is Web Manager and PD for the LSU AgCenter subcontract of Purdue’s NIFA funds for support of EDEN work. The LSU AgCenter hosts a number of EDEN Internet and Intranet web presences and provides networking support, working closely with the EDEN Communications group at Purdue. I gave up web-mastering many years ago and now just think up stuff for our very talented webmaster – Andrew Garcia — to do.
I am most active in the EDEN Exec and international committees, and now taking greater interest in the youth activities and disaster activation and communication planning arenas.

5. What was your favorite part of the 2014 EDEN Annual Meeting?
There were several high points, but my hands-down favorite part had to be bringing the 4-H’ers to the meeting and having the group receive them with such enthusiasm.