Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Torrential Rainfall Leads to Catastrophic Flooding across Mississippi


Heavy, torrential rainfall and severe storm weather has led to catastrophic flooding across central Mississippi this week. The flooding began on Wednesday, August 24, after a slow-moving weather system produced record-breaking rainfall in multiple counties. The heavy rain prompted the National Weather Service (NWS) to issue a flash flood emergency for nearly 300,000 people in Jackson, Mississippi, and surrounding communities. As the flooding progressed, high-water rescue vehicles were used to evacuate over 100 children and staff from a daycare facility in Florence, Mississippi, and dozens of nursing home residents in Brandon, Mississippi. As a result of the escalating flood waters, portions of a Newton County highway collapsed, creating a sinkhole into which a truck fell, according to the Mississippi Highway Patrol (MHP). In addition, two pressurized train cars carrying carbon dioxide derailed in Brandon, Mississippi, after heavy rain washed out sections of the underlying track bed. While the location of the derailment is in close proximity to numerous neighborhoods, local authorities have indicated the situation poses no hazards to the community, as officers will be stationed at both ends of the track until the tanks are offloaded.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba declared a flash-flooding local emergency Wednesday afternoon, August 24, as this week’s heavy rain fosters risks of severe flooding from Pearl River. According to the NWS, discharge from the river’s reservoir has increased to 55,000 cubic feet of water per second (cfs), leaving forecasters to expect a crest of 36 feet, eight feet above flood stage, by Tuesday morning, August 30. In a press conference on August 25, the mayor called for voluntary evacuations of numerous neighborhoods in Northeast Jackson in preparation for a Pearl River flood.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), weather events producing extreme rainfall have increased across the United States (US) and are projected to continue increasing, bringing community health risks. The volume of extreme precipitation and total rainfall accumulation has contributed to severe flooding, which is the second most fatal weather-related hazard accounting for approximately 98 deaths each year. These intense swings in weather conditions – from severe drought to extreme rainfall and flooding – has been coined “weather whiplash” and is a growing concern impacting communities across the country. At least half of the country has been plagued with drought conditions this summer and many regions are continuing to experience severe, extreme and exceptional drought, according to the US Drought Monitor’s map released on August 25. These extreme dry conditions have been followed by significant and record-breaking rainfall, including in the St. Louis metropolitan area from July 25-26, eastern Kentucky and central Appalachia from July 26-July 30, eastern Illinois on August 2, Death Valley National Park on August 5, and in the Dallas area on August 21.

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A team of scientists at the World Weather Attribution (WWA) are investigating the relationship between climate change and extreme weather events that are record-breaking, impact at least one million individuals, and cause a significant loss of life. According to WWA official Julie Arrighi, their team has already identified 41 qualifying weather events globally this calendar year – eight floods, three storms, eight droughts, 18 heat waves and four cold waves. Historically the US has experienced extreme rain events in connection with hurricanes or tropical storms, but as recently as this summer the country has seen “an overabundance of non-tropical related extreme rainfall,” according to the NWS Weather Prediction Center (WPC) forecast branch chief Greg Carbin.

FEMA Flood Safety: Source

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) encourages individuals to take the necessary precautions and prepare for flash flooding. Flash floods can develop with little to no warning, quickly changing the surrounding area. FEMA suggested individuals seek higher ground, avoid walking or driving in flood waters, and heed the warnings of local authorities. The most important step is to seek shelter away from the water, which may necessitate getting to the highest ground possible, or evacuating the area if directed to do so. Individuals should pay close attention to national emergency alerts or local alerting systems for the most up-to-date instructions. It is imperative that individuals seek higher ground, and to avoid walking or driving in flood waters. 

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