Learning from Not-so-Great Floods in Georgia History

9-09 FloodsYou’ve probably heard “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it,” and “You don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.” In most aspects in life, the best way to improve a situation is to evaluate past events in order to know how to properly handle them in the future.

With that in mind, we’re taking a look back at Georgia’s recent experience with floods. As part of Flood Safety Preparedness Week, we want to refresh your memory about just how destructive floods can be. In fact, they are one of the most common and widespread of all natural disasters, and they are the second most common weather-related killer in Georgia.

Where We’ve Been: Georgia’s Recent Flooding History

Since 2008, Georgia has experienced four flooding events that have resulted in a Federal Major Disaster Declaration. In addition to these disastrous events, Georgians are no strangers to various types of flooding occurrences. Floods in Georgia can be caused by a variety of weather and related phenomena, including thunderstorms, low pressure systems, tornadoes and more. Types of flooding which can occur due to these weather conditions can range from river flooding, to urban flooding, to flash flooding, and they can develop quickly or over a longer period of time.

In the spring of 2009, Georgia residents in 23 counties were impacted by a month-long series of severe storms that brought substantial rainfall and caused widespread flooding.  Damage was costly with damage to public infrastructure alone reaching approximately $60 million.

Later that year Georgia experienced another bout of severe flooding, this time caused by continuous rain that fell faster than the local watersheds could handle. Some areas of the state received almost half their average annual rainfall in only 24 hours, and metro Atlanta recorded 3.7 inches of rain in one 14-hour period – more than double the previous record for daily rainfall. The result was flooding of historic proportions with some rivers reaching levels that are expected only once every 500 years. What has become known as the Epic Floods of September 2009 resulted in the death of 10 people and an estimated $250 million in damage.

The severe storms that spawn tornadoes can also lead to floods. In 2011, the National Weather Service ranked April as the most active tornado month on record with 750 tornadoes across the country which resulted in 361 deaths. In addition to tornadoes, the storms also consisted of straight-line winds and significant flooding. Because of the April 2011 disasters, the damages totaled almost $15 million in federal assistance was approved for individuals and business owners, as well as local, county and state governments in the 25 Georgia counties that were declared a major disaster.

More recently, during 2014, there were 40 reports of flash flooding that occurred throughout the state which in total caused $523,000 in damage.

Where We’re Going: How to Prepare for Floods

Since we know their capacity for destruction, it is important to prepare for potential floods.  Learn about your area’s flood risk by contacting your local emergency management agency or planning and zoning department, or visiting www.floodsmart.gov for more information.

Once you know your area’s risk, compile a Ready kit of emergency supplies for the home and a portable version in case you have to evacuate. If you were to encounter a flood while on the road, remember to “turn around, don’t drown.” More than half of flood victims are in vehicles swept away by moving water, so you should never drive through standing water. It only takes one foot of water to float a vehicle and two feet of water to sweep it away.

Being prepared and knowing how to react are essential, but since floods can develop quickly with little warning,  it is also important to have a reliable source on hand, such as a NOAA Weather Radio or the Ready Georgia mobile app, to keep you informed.