Taking Our Temperature

Floods: Water Gone Wild

We can't live without water. We don't give it much thought, though, except during extreme weather situations—like floods. Then we remember: Too much of a good thing can be deadly.

High winds: Lashed by the wind, rivers may overflow their banks.

Droughts: Hardened soil can't soak up rainwater.

Earthquakes: They can cause ice jams, unusually high storm tides, or even tsunamis (gigantic waves).

Scientists fear that global warming will trigger more floods — and other extreme weather events. Floods damage property (roads, buildings, bridges), hurt agriculture (lost crops and soil erosion), and can bring illness and loss of life. Floods, droughts, hurricanes, and tornadoes can cost society millions or billions of dollars. Scientists caution that the frequency, duration, and intensity of such disasters may change with global warming.


Truck floating in water. Source: NOAA
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


Floods are not new. Virtually every ancient culture has a myth about devastating floods that once soaked the world. Scientists are predicting extreme rainfall and greater flooding due to global warming. Particularly hard-hit will be low-lying areas. Higher latitudes (farther north or south, depending on your hemisphere), which already receive lots of precipitation, are expected to receive even more.


Mild, seasonal flooding can be a blessing, especially to farmers. But rushing water can destroy whole

click to enlarge image
Graph of the great weather and flood catastrophes over the last forty years. Source: UNEP
The effects of flooding—contaminated water, disease outbreaks, moldy houses, and injuries—carry economic and personal loss.
Source: United Nations Environment Programme

Major health problems from floods are less obvious than the rushing water. (See more at Health & You below.) Yet they can be more devastating in the long run. Floods bring a slew of health problems, from cholera to respiratory infections.

Fortunately, new technologies such as radar, satellites, and computer modeling have greatly improved weather forecasting. That gives people more time to evacuate before waters rise. Advances in medicine and engineering help us control the spread of flood-related illness—or even the flood itself.


health_icon What health problems can floods trigger?

science_icon Isn't there ever any GOOD News?


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