Flooding In St. Louis For Two Years In A Row
The St. Louis Post Dispatch recently had an article about the drastic flooding we have had in our region in the past two years. The article states "Residents of waterlogged communities along the Meramec River and other swollen area waterways have experienced something unusual for the region.
In a span of just 16 months, the people of cities like Eureka, Pacific and Valley Park have twice braced for and dealt with so-called “100-year” floods that have left damage, financial loss and heartache in their wake. Now, as the floodwater recedes in some communities, residents are left wondering how soon the next catastrophic flood will arrive.
Answers from experts are not reassuring.
Officially, neither the 2015 flood nor last week’s disaster on the Meramec qualify as 100-year events — though that may be small comfort.
“This flood we’re preliminarily calling an 80-, 81-year event,” said Bob Holmes, the Rolla-based national flood coordinator for the United States Geological Survey. The 2015 flood, he says, ranked as a “91-year” event based on flood records for the Meramec at Eureka.
Though Holmes points out that it’s “not unheard of” to have floods of that severity happen in such close succession, others think it’s more than just a stroke of bad luck. They assign blame to worrisome climate trends that boost the likelihood of major rain events or failed flood policy that both constricts and swells waterways through levee construction and flood plain development.
Combined and left unmitigated, some say, both those factors mean the region’s flooding problems will persist .
“When you live in an area that can flood or develop in the flood plain, you’re always playing a bit of Russian roulette with the river or the climate,” Holmes said. “As we get in a wetter climate cycle, it could happen more and more often.”
Extreme bouts of precipitation don’t always translate to extreme floods, owing to a variety of factors such as soil moisture. Nonetheless, flood risk is rising with episodes of heavy rainfall becoming more common in the Midwest, says Ken Kunkel, a professor who researches extreme weather at North Carolina State University and is also involved with the National Climate Assessment.
“Every decade has been higher than the previous decade in terms of these events,” Kunkel said.
He says studies link more frequent downpours to rising global temperatures, which add more water vapor to the atmosphere, increasing the potential for precipitation whenever a storm system comes along.
“They’ve got more fuel to work with, with more water vapor,” Kunkel said.
At Sullivan, in the Meramec Basin, the National Weather Service reports that 11.88 inches of precipitation was recorded over a 10-day span from April 26 to May 5. That total approaches a 100-year rain event in terms of likelihood, based on probabilities from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
That rain, however, came in a few distinct waves, which stack up as a series of smaller or less-historic rain events when viewed over different time intervals. Sullivan’s largest three-day rain total of 6.7 inches, measured from April 29 to May 1, falls between a 10-year and a 25-year rain event, according to NOAA.
All that rain capped a historically wet month for Missouri. Patrick Guinan, the state climatologist, said preliminary data suggest that the month will rank as the wettest April on record, with a statewide average just shy of 10 inches of precipitation — about a quarter of Missouri’s annual average.
But not everyone thinks climate change or sheer rainfall are the sole explanations for recent near-record-level flooding around St. Louis.
“Land use is really a huge factor in flooding,” Holmes said. “From what I’ve seen, it trumps climate change in some areas.”
It’s definitely “a bigger game-changer,” he says, in urban areas, where paved surfaces drive more runoff into waterways and still more water is diverted by levee systems.
‘A constricted river’
Bob Criss, a professor at Washington University’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences who studies flooding, agrees that the cumulative impact of diverted water — and not rainfall — best explains the region’s recent major floods.
The problem, he says, was especially apparent with last week’s crest of the Mississippi River. Such a big river, he says, should not normally be so sensitive to similar episodes of rain. But he says it’s increasingly behaving like a small basin “because it’s far too squeezed” by levees that amplify flood severity.
“An event like this should not be setting the all-time (flood stage) record at Cape Girardeau, which it’s about to do, or maybe be No. 2,” Criss said. “This is not climate change. This is a constricted river.”
The Mississippi, he notes, has only eclipsed a 40-foot flood stage at St. Louis about 10 times since 1785, but has done so in 2013, 2016 and now again in 2017.
Criss is one of a group of area flood policy critics who suspect levees are chronically built higher than their authorized height. That belief was recently bolstered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Rock Island District upstream from St. Louis, where officials reported that approximately 40 percent of the district’s Mississippi River levees are overbuilt.
It is unclear at this time whether those levees have contributed to flooding in the St. Louis area. The corps’ St. Louis District is conducting a similar investigation into local levee heights, set to be completed by March 2018.
Some residents in flooded communities on the Meramec are wondering whether there are enough flood control systems in place.
“There was a serious pursuit of damming this river up, some time ago,” said Fenton resident, John Huff, referencing a failed bid in the 1970s and ’80s to situate a dam near Meramec State Park in Sullivan. “This levee system isn’t working.”
Though some say it may have helped with flood control, dams come with their own complicated web of costs and benefits. Criss, for one, says it would have been the wrong approach, especially given the number of caves in that location.
“The whole area is Swiss cheese,” Criss said. “You cannot build a dam on that kind of rock.”
Plus, he points to severe floods in northwest Missouri in 2011 as a powerful illustration that dammed watersheds aren’t immune to flooding.
“That is just downstream from the largest network of flood control dams in the world,” said Criss, adding that those floods were largely triggered by rain as far up the Missouri River as Montana. “All the reservoirs were full. … You had to dump water from every reservoir down the line.”
Frequent floods aren’t just exhausting — they’re also expensive.
“Since 2011, the Mississippi River Valley has sustained over $50 billion in natural disaster impacts,” said Colin Wellenkamp, executive director of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, which addresses river management issues.
Missouri alone has been affected by four separate billion-dollar flood events in the last decade. In inflation-adjusted records dating back to 1980, NOAA reports that only one other such event — the Flood of 1993 — surpassed the billion-dollar threshold in the state.
Some say policymakers need to adjust to new recurring climate extremes, or continue to pay a hefty price.
“It is becoming, more and more, a normal of extremes,” Wellenkamp said. “The happy medium is becoming less and less frequent.”
He says greater regional coordination will be required to restore “natural infrastructure” such as flood plains and wetlands to absorb flood risk along the river, instead of defending localities by simply “sending risk downriver.”
“It is certainly changing the calculus of how these challenges are approached,” Wellenkamp said. “The more conventional ideas don’t seem to be cutting it anymore. We need to approach these problems from larger, regional scales.
“Once upon a time, you could just focus on your part of the river,” he added. “Now it’s ballooning into a regional question.”
While many agree that a different approach will be needed going forward, some also wonder whether that should apply in the immediate aftermath of the latest flooding around St. Louis, broaching the difficult question of whether it’s prudent to rebuild in some areas.
“I feel badly for these people — this is a tragedy,” said Criss. “But there’s a point, are you really going to replace that carpet again?”
He noted that areas along the Meramec near Pacific, for instance, have been inundated in 1982, 1994, 2008, 2015 and again this year.
“There’s a point where one has to realistically evaluate the situation,” Criss said. “We have to expect higher water with increased frequency.”
When these unavoidable weather events happen, SERVPRO is equipped to handle any disaster large or small. Its imperative to call a professional instead of trying to clean up on your own. We are a 24/7 Emergency Service team who is faster to any size disaster.
Grey, B. (2017, May 8). Two Catastrophic Floods In Less Than Two Years Wasn't Just A Case Of Bad Luck. Retrieved May 9, 2017, from http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/two-catastrophic-floods-in-less-than-two-years-wasn-t/article_33e07bfa-16dd-575b-8e18-9a6e2a2eebd0.html
Understanding Water Types
When your home or business suffers a water damage, understanding what type of water you are dealing with is critical to ensuring proper cleanup. There are three types of water. Clean water is water from a broken pipe, or other water sources; rainwater is also considered clean. The term grey water is used to classify slightly contaminated water. Clean water becomes grey water when it is left untreated allowing bacteria and other contaminants to begin growing, making the water hazardous. Black water is highly contaminated and filled with fungi, bacteria, chemicals and more. Black water is typically caused by sewage damage, flooding or any type of natural disaster. Black water should always be handled by trained professionals. Consider taking the following precautions to help minimize damage or prevent further damage while waiting for help to arrive.
Damage from Clean Water:
-Shut off the water source if possible or contact a qualified professional to do so.
-Turn off circuit breakers for wet areas of the building if access to the power distribution panel is safe from potential electric shock. Do not enter rooms with standing water, as electrical shock hazards may exist.
-Remove as much excess water from wood furniture after removing lamps and tabletop items.
-Remove and prop up wet upholstery cushions to allow more even drying.
-Move any paintings, art objects, computers, documents and other valuable items that may be sensitive to moisture to a safe place.
-Do not leave books, newspapers, magazines or other colored items on wet carpets or floors as they may cause staining. Do not use your household vacuum cleaner to remove water as there is potential for electric shock or causing damage to the vacuum cleaner.
-Do not turn on ceiling fixtures if ceiling is wet; do not enter rooms where ceilings are sagging from retained water.
Damage from Contaminated Water:
-Avoid all contact with sewage and items contaminated by sewage. Wash your hands thoroughly if you come in contact with contaminated items.
-Do not walk through contaminated areas, as you could spread damage to unaffected areas.
-Do not turn on the HVAC system if there is a possibility of spreading contaminated air.
-Do not use household fans to dry the structure; airflow could spread contaminants.
-Discard any food and or products for personal hygiene and cleanliness if exposed to the contaminated areas.
When you have water damage don't' leave your property to chance. CALL SERVPRO TODAY!
Preparing For A Flood:
Flooding can happen fast in many environments. The American Red Cross recommends having the following list of items packed and ready to go in the event of an evacuation due to flooding.
-Water, 3 day supply; one gallon per person per day
-Food, 3 day supply of non perishable, easy to prepare food.
-Battery powered or hand crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible)
-First Aid Kit
-Medications (7 Day supply) and medical items (hearing aids with extra batteries, glasses, contact lenses, syringes, cane)
-Multi purpose tools
-Sanitation/Personal Hygiene Items
-Copies of Personal Documents
-Cell Phone with Chargers
-Family Emergency Contact Information
9 Ways to Curb Moisture Indoors
1. Identify problem areas in your home and correct them. You can't mold-proof your home, but you can make it mold-resistant. Do an audit of your home: where are the problem areas? Does the basement flood? Do you notice frequent condensation on an upstairs window? Is there a water stain on the ceiling from a persistent leak? Preventing mold from growing or spreading might be as simple as ripping up carpet in a damp basement, installing mold-resistant products, or repairing damaged gutters. Or it may be a matter of major excavation and waterproofing. Whatever the case, address the problem now. It might cost some money up front, but it will surely be more costly down the road if mold continues to grow unchecked.
2. Dry wet areas immediately. Mold can't grow without moisture, so tackle wet areas right away. Seepage into the basement after a heavy rainfall, accumulation from a leaky pipe, even a spill on the carpet should be dried within 24 to 48 hours. If you've experienced a flood, remove water-damaged carpets, bedding, and furniture if they can't be completely dried. Even everyday occurrences need attention: don't leave wet items lying around the house, and make sure to dry the floor and walls after a shower. Don't leave wet clothes in the washing machine, where mold can spread quickly. Hang them to dry — preferably outside or in areas with good air circulation.
3. Prevent moisture with proper ventilation. It may be that your routine domestic activities are encouraging the growth of mold in your home. Make sure an activity as simple as cooking dinner, taking a shower, or doing a load of laundry doesn't invite mold by providing proper ventilation in your bathroom, kitchen, laundry room, and any other high-moisture area. Vent appliances that produce moisture — clothes dryers, stoves — to the outside (not the attic). Use AC units and dehumidifiers (especially in humid climates), but make sure they don’t produce moisture themselves by checking them periodically and cleaning them as directed by the manufacturer. Your energy-efficient home may be holding moisture inside, so open a window when cooking or washing dishes or showering, or run an exhaust fan.
4. Equip your home with mold-resistant products. Building a new home or renovating an old one? Use mold-resistant products like mold-resistant drywall or mold-resistant Sheetrock, and mold inhibitors for paints. Traditional drywall is composed of a gypsum plaster core pressed between plies of paper. Mold-resistant drywall is paperless — the gypsum core is covered in fiberglass, making the surface highly water-resistant. Moisture-resistant drywall is especially valuable in areas prone to wetness, such as bathrooms, laundry rooms, basements, and kitchens. Not only is traditional drywall more susceptible to mold than the paperless kind, but it is also difficult to rid of mold, and removal and replacement can be expensive. Mold-resistant gypsum board is also available; the core of the drywall is developed in such a way to prevent moisture absorption, and thus prevent mold growth.
5. Monitor humidity indoors. The EPA recommends keeping indoor humidity between 30 and 60 percent. You can measure humidity with a moisture meter purchased from your local hardware store. You'll also be able to detect high humidity by simply paying attention to potential problem areas in your home. Telltale signs of excessive humidity include condensation on windows, pipes, and walls. If you notice condensation, dry the surface immediately and address the source of moisture (for example, turn off a humidifier if water appears on the inside of nearby windows).
6. Direct water away from your home. If the ground around your home isn't sufficiently sloped away from the foundation, water may collect there and seep into your crawlspace or basement.
7. Clean or repair roof gutters. A mold problem might be a simple matter of a roof that is leaking because of full or damaged gutters. Have your roof gutters cleaned regularly and inspected for damage. Repair them as necessary, and keep an eye out for water stains after storms that may indicate a leak.
8. Improve air flow in your home. According to the EPA, as temperatures drop, the air is able to hold less moisture. Without good air flow in your home, that excess moisture may appear on your walls, windows and floors. To increase circulation, open doors between rooms, move furniture away from walls, and open doors to closets that may be colder than the rooms they’re in. Let fresh air in to reduce moisture and keep mold at bay.
9. Keep mold off household plants. They're beautiful and help keep your indoor air clean — and mold loves them. The moist soil in indoor plants is a perfect breeding ground for mold, which may then spread to other areas of your house. Instead of getting rid of your plants, try adding a bit of Taheebo tea to the water you give to your houseplants. The oil of this tree, which withstands fungi even in rain forests, helps hinder mold growth in plant soil and can be found at natural food stores.
Finally, educate yourself on your region's climate — be it the cold and wet Northeast, the hot and wet South, the hot and dry Southwest, or the cold and dry West — and how it responds to moisture. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to mold prevention. Knowing what works for your climate and your home is an important first step.