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Flood threats changing across US

The risk of flooding in the United States is changing regionally, and the reasons could be shifting rainfall patterns and the amount of water in the ground.

In a new study, University of Iowa engineers determined that, in general, the threat of flooding is growing in the northern half of the U.S. and declining in the southern half. The American Southwest and West, meanwhile, are experiencing decreasing flood risk.

UI engineers Gabriele Villarini and Louise Slater compiled water-height information between 1985 and 2015 from 2,042 stream gauges operated by the U.S. Geological Survey. They then compared the data to satellite information gathered over more than a dozen years by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission showing “basin wetness,” or the amount of water stored in the ground.

What they found was the northern sections of the country, generally, have an increased amount of water stored in the ground, and thus are at greater risk for minor and moderate flooding, two flood categories used by the National Weather Service. Meanwhile, minor to moderate flood risk was decreasing in the southern portions of the U.S., where stored water has declined. (See the above map.)

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