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Title: Flood  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: August 2007, July 2007, October 2010, 2007 in China, June 2008
Collection: Basic Meteorological Concepts and Phenomena, Bodies of Water, Flood, Hydrology, Weather Hazards
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Contemporary picture of the flood that struck the North Sea coast of Germany and Denmark in October 1634.
People seeking refuge from flood in Java. ca. 1865–1876.
Flooding of a creek due to heavy monsoonal rain and high tide in Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia.
Jeddah Flood, covering King Abdullah Street in Saudi Arabia.
Flooding near Key West, Florida, United States from Hurricane Wilma's storm surge in October 2005.
Flooding in a street of Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil in April 2013.
Flash flooding caused by heavy rain falling in a short amount of time.
Dozens of villages were inundated when rain pushed the rivers of northwestern Bangladesh over their banks in early October 2005. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured the top image of the flooded Ghaghat and Atrai Rivers on October 12, 2005. The deep blue of the rivers is spread across the countryside in the flood image.

A flood is an overflow of water that submerges land which is usually dry.[1] The European Union (EU) Floods Directive defines a flood as a covering by water of land not normally covered by water.[2] In the sense of "flowing water", the word may also be applied to the inflow of the tide. Flooding may occur as an overflow of water from water bodies, such as a river or lake, in which the water overtops or breaks levees, resulting in some of that water escaping its usual boundaries,[3] or it may occur due to an accumulation of rainwater on saturated ground in an areal flood. While the size of a lake or other body of water will vary with seasonal changes in precipitation and snow melt, these changes in size are unlikely to be considered significant unless they flood property or drown domestic animals.

Floods can also occur in rivers when the flow rate exceeds the capacity of the river channel, particularly at bends or meanders in the waterway. Floods often cause damage to homes and businesses if they are in the natural flood plains of rivers. While riverine flood damage can be eliminated by moving away from rivers and other bodies of water, people have traditionally lived and worked by rivers because the land is usually flat and fertile and because rivers provide easy travel and access to commerce and industry.

Some floods develop slowly, while others such as flash floods, can develop in just a few minutes and without visible signs of rain. Additionally, floods can be local, impacting a neighborhood or community, or very large, affecting entire river basins.


  • Etymology 1
  • Principal types and causes 2
    • Areal (rainfall related) 2.1
    • Riverine 2.2
    • Estuarine and coastal 2.3
    • Urban flooding 2.4
    • Catastrophic 2.5
  • Effects 3
    • Primary effects 3.1
    • Secondary and long-term effects 3.2
  • Flood forecasting 4
  • Control 5
  • Benefits 6
  • Computer modelling 7
  • Deadliest floods 8
  • In myth and religion 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • Bibliography 12
  • External links 13


The word "flood" comes from the Old English flod, a word common to Germanic languages (compare German Flut, Dutch vloed from the same root as is seen in flow, float; also compare with Latin fluctus, flumen). Deluge myths are mythical stories of a great flood sent by a deity or deities to destroy civilization as an act of divine retribution, and they are featured in the mythology of many cultures.

Principal types and causes

Areal (rainfall related)

Floods can happen on flat or low-lying areas when the ground is saturated and water either cannot run off or cannot run off quickly enough to stop accumulating. This may be followed by a river flood as water moves away from the floodplain into local rivers and streams.

Floods can also occur if water falls on an impermeable surface, such as concrete, paving or frozen ground, and cannot rapidly dissipate into the ground.

Localized heavy rain from a series of storms moving over the same area can cause areal flash flooding when the rate of rainfall exceeds the drainage capacity of the area. When this occurs on tilled fields, it can result in a muddy flood where sediments are picked up by run off and carried as suspended matter or bed load.


River or rambla flows may rise to floods levels at different rates, from a few minutes to several weeks, depending on the type of river or rambla and the source of the increased flow.

Slow rising floods most commonly occur in large rivers with large catchment areas. The increase in flow may be the result of sustained rainfall, rapid snow melt, monsoons, or tropical cyclones. Localized flooding may be caused or exacerbated by drainage obstructions such as landslides, ice, or debris.

Rapid flooding events, including flash floods, more often occur on smaller rivers, rivers with steep valleys, rivers that flow for much of their length over impermeable terrain or ramblas. The cause may be localized convective precipitation (intense thunderstorms) or sudden release from an upstream impoundment created behind a dam, landslide, or glacier.

Dam-building beavers can flood low-lying urban and rural areas, occasionally causing some damage.

Estuarine and coastal

Flooding in estuaries is commonly caused by a combination of sea tidal surges caused by winds and low barometric pressure, and they may be exacerbated by high upstream river flow.

Coastal areas may be flooded by storm events at sea, resulting in waves over-topping defenses or in severe cases by tsunami or tropical cyclones. A storm surge, from either a tropical cyclone or an extratropical cyclone, falls within this category.

Urban flooding

Urban flooding is the inundation of land or property in a built environment, particularly in more densely populated areas, caused by rainfall overwhelming the capacity of drainage systems, such as storm sewers. Although sometimes triggered by events such as flash flooding or snowmelt, urban flooding is a condition, characterized by its repetitive and systemic impacts on communities, that can happen regardless of whether or not affected communities are located within formally designated floodplains or near any body of water.[4] There are several ways in which stormwater enters properties: backup through sewer pipes, toilets and sinks into buildings; seepage through building walls and floors; the accumulation of water on property and in public rights-of-way; and the overflow from water bodies such as rivers and lakes.

The flood flow in urbanized areas constitutes a hazard to both the population and infrastructure. Some recent catastrophes include the inundations of Nîmes (France) in 1998 and Vaison-la-Romaine (France) in 1992, the flooding of New Orleans (USA) in 2005, and the flooding in Rockhampton, Bundaberg, Brisbane during the 2010–2011 summer in Queensland (Australia). Flood flows in urban environments have been studied relatively recently despite many centuries of flood events.[5] Some researchers have mentioned the storage effect in urban areas. Several studies have looked into the flow patterns and redistribution in streets during storm events and the implication on flood modelling.[6] Some recent research has considered the criteria for safe evacuation of individuals in flooded areas.[7] However, some recent field measurements during the 2010–2011 Queensland floods showed that any criterion solely based upon the flow velocity, water depth or specific momentum cannot account for the hazards caused by velocity and water depth fluctuations.[5] These considerations ignore further the risks associated with large debris entrained by the flow motion.[7]


Catastrophic flooding is usually associated with major infrastructure failures such as the collapse of a dam, but they may also be caused by damage sustained in an earthquake or volcanic eruption. See outburst flood.


Primary effects

The primary effects of flooding include loss of life, damage to buildings and other structures, including bridges, sewerage systems, roadways, and canals.

Floods also frequently damage power transmission and sometimes power generation, which then has knock-on effects caused by the loss of power. This includes loss of drinking water treatment and water supply, which may result in loss of drinking water or severe water contamination. It may also cause the loss of sewage disposal facilities. Lack of clean water combined with human sewage in the flood waters raises the risk of waterborne diseases, which can include typhoid, giardia, cryptosporidium, cholera and many other diseases depending upon the location of the flood.

Damage to roads and transport infrastructure may make it difficult to mobilize aid to those affected or to provide emergency health treatment.

Flood waters typically inundate farm land, making the land unworkable and preventing crops from being planted or harvested, which can lead to shortages of food both for humans and farm animals. Entire harvests for a country can be lost in extreme flood circumstances. Some tree species may not survive prolonged flooding of their root systems [8]

Secondary and long-term effects

Economic hardship due to a temporary decline in tourism, rebuilding costs, or food shortages leading to price increases is a common after-effect of severe flooding. The impact on those affected may cause psychological damage to those affected, in particular where deaths, serious injuries and loss of property occur.

Urban flooding can lead to chronically wet houses, which are linked to an increase in respiratory problems and other illnesses.[9] Urban flooding also has significant economic implications for affected neighborhoods. In the United States, industry experts estimate that wet basements can lower property values by 10-25 percent and are cited among the top reasons for not purchasing a home.[10] According to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), almost 40 percent of small businesses never reopen their doors following a flooding disaster.[11]

Flood forecasting

Anticipating floods before they occur allows for precautions to be taken and people to be warned [12] so that they can be prepared in advance for flooding conditions. For example, farmers can remove animals from low-lying areas and utility services can put in place emergency provisions to re-route services if needed. Emergency services can also make provisions to have enough resources available ahead of time to respond to emergencies as they occur.

In order to make the most accurate flood forecasts for waterways, it is best to have a long time-series of historical data that relates stream flows to measured past rainfall events.[13] Coupling this historical information with real-time knowledge about volumetric capacity in catchment areas, such as spare capacity in reservoirs, ground-water levels, and the degree of saturation of area aquifers is also needed in order to make the most accurate flood forecasts.

Radar estimates of rainfall and general weather forecasting techniques are also important components of good flood forecasting. In areas where good quality data is available, the intensity and height of a flood can be predicted with fairly good accuracy and plenty of lead time. The output of a flood forecast is typically a maximum expected water level and the likely time of its arrival at key locations along a waterway,[14] and it also may allow for the computation of the likely statistical return period of a flood. In many developed countries, urban areas at risk of flooding are protected against a 100-year flood - that is a flood that has a probability of around 63% of occurring in any 100 year period of time.

According to the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) Northeast River Forecast Center (RFC) in Taunton, Massachusetts, a general rule-of-thumb for flood forecasting in urban areas is that it takes at least 1 inch (25 mm) of rainfall in around an hour's time in order to start significant ponding of water on impermeable surfaces. Many NWS RFCs routinely issue Flash Flood Guidance and Headwater Guidance, which indicate the general amount of rainfall that would need to fall in a short period of time in order to cause flash flooding or flooding on larger water basins.[15]


In many countries around the world, waterways prone to floods are often carefully managed. Defenses such as detention basins, levees,[16] bunds, reservoirs, and weirs are used to prevent waterways from overflowing their banks. When these defenses fail, emergency measures such as sandbags or portable inflatable tubes are often used to try and stem flooding. Coastal flooding has been addressed in portions of Europe and the Americas with coastal defenses, such as sea walls, beach nourishment, and barrier islands.

In the riparian zone near rivers and streams, erosion control measures can be taken to try and slow down or reverse the natural forces that cause many waterways to meander over long periods of time. Flood controls, such as dams, can be built and maintained over time to try and reduce the occurrence and severity of floods as well. In the USA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains a network of such flood control dams.

In areas prone to urban flooding, one solution is the repair and expansion of man-made sewer systems and stormwater infrastructure. Another strategy is to reduce impervious surfaces in streets, parking lots and buildings through natural drainage channels, porous paving, and wetlands (collectively known as green infrastructure or sustainable urban drainage systems [SUDS]). Areas identified as flood-prone can be converted into parks and playgrounds that can tolerate occasional flooding. Ordinances can be adopted to require developers to retain stormwater on site and require buildings to be elevated, protected by floodwalls and levees, or designed to withstand temporary inundation. Property owners can also invest in solutions themselves, such as re-landscaping their property to take the flow of water away from their building and installing rain barrels, sump pumps, and check valves.


Floods (in particular more frequent or smaller floods) can also bring many benefits, such as recharging ground water, making soil more fertile and increasing nutrients in some soils. Flood waters provide much needed water resources in arid and semi-arid regions where precipitation can be very unevenly distributed throughout the year and kills pests in the farming land . Freshwater floods particularly play an important role in maintaining ecosystems in river corridors and are a key factor in maintaining floodplain biodiversity.[17] Flooding can spread nutrients to lakes and rivers, which can lead to increased biomass and improved fisheries for a few years.

For some fish species, an inundated floodplain may form a highly suitable location for spawning with few predators and enhanced levels of nutrients or food.[18] Fish, such as the weather fish, make use of floods in order to reach new habitats. Bird populations may also profit from the boost in food production caused by flooding.[19]

Periodic flooding was essential to the well-being of ancient communities along the Tigris-Euphrates Rivers, the Nile River, the Indus River, the Ganges and the Yellow River among others. The viability of hydropower, a renewable source of energy, is also higher in flood prone regions.

Computer modelling

While flood computer modelling is a fairly recent practice, attempts to understand and manage the mechanisms at work in floodplains have been made for at least six millennia.[20] Recent developments in computational flood modelling have enabled engineers to step away from the tried and tested "hold or break" approach and its tendency to promote overly engineered structures. Various computational flood models have been developed in recent years; either 1D models (flood levels measured in the channel) or 2D models (variable flood depths measured across the extent of a floodplain). HEC-RAS,[21] the Hydraulic Engineering Centre model, is currently among the most popular computer models, if only because it is available free of charge. Other models such as TUFLOW[22] combine 1D and 2D components to derive flood depths across both river channels and the entire floodplain. To date, the focus of computer modelling has primarily been on mapping tidal and fluvial flood events, but the 2007 flood events in the UK have shifted the emphasis there onto the impact of surface water flooding.[23]

In the United States, an integrated approach to real-time hydrologic computer modelling utilizes observed data from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS),[24] various cooperative observing networks,[25] various automated weather sensors, the NOAA National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center (NOHRSC),[26] various hydroelectric companies, etc. combined with quantitative precipitation forecasts (QPF) of expected rainfall and/or snow melt to generate daily or as-needed hydrologic forecasts.[27] The NWS also cooperates with Environment Canada on hydrologic forecasts that affect both the USA and Canada, like in the area of the Saint Lawrence Seaway.

Deadliest floods

Below is a list of the deadliest floods worldwide, showing events with death tolls at or above 100,000 individuals.
Death toll Event Location Date
2,500,000–3,700,000[28] 1931 China floods China 1931
900,000–2,000,000 1887 Yellow River (Huang He) flood China 1887
500,000–700,000 1938 Yellow River (Huang He) flood China 1938
231,000 Banqiao Dam failure, result of Typhoon Nina. Approximately 86,000 people died from flooding and another 145,000 died during subsequent disease. China 1975
230,000 Indian Ocean tsunami Indonesia 2004
145,000 1935 Yangtze river flood China 1935
100,000+ St. Felix's Flood, storm surge Netherlands 1530
100,000 Hanoi and Red River Delta flood North Vietnam 1971
100,000 1911 Yangtze river flood China 1911

In myth and religion

Flood myths (great, civilization-destroying floods as divine retribution) are widespread in many cultures and religions. As a prime example, the Genesis flood narrative plays a prominent role in Judaism and Christianity.

See also


  1. ^ MSN Encarta Dictionary. Flood. Retrieved on 2006-12-28. Archived 2009-10-31.
  2. ^ Directive 2007/60/EC Chapter 1 Article2. Retrieved on 2012-06-12.
  3. ^ Glossary of Meteorology (June 2000). Flood. Retrieved on 2009-01-09.
  4. ^ Center for Neighborhood Technology, Chicago IL. “The Prevalence and Cost of Urban Flooding.” May 2013
  5. ^ a b Brown, Richard;  
  6. ^ Werner, MGF; Hunter, NM; Bates, PD (2006). "Identifiability of Distributed Floodplain Roughness Values in Flood Extent Estimation". Journal of Hydrology (314): 139–157. 
  7. ^ a b  
  8. ^ Stephen Bratkovich, Lisa Burban, et al., "Flooding and its Effects on Trees", USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry, St. Paul, MN, September 1993, webpage:
  9. ^ Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Scientific Findings Resource Bank (IAQ-SFRB), “Health Risks or Dampness or Mold in Houses”
  10. ^ Center for Neighborhood Technology, Chicago IL “The Prevalence and Cost of Urban Flooding.” May 2013
  11. ^ “Protecting Your Businesses,” last updated March, 2013,
  12. ^ "Flood Warnings". Environment Agency. 2013-04-30. Retrieved 2013-06-17. 
  13. ^ "Australia rainfall and river conditions". Retrieved 2013-06-17. 
  14. ^ "AHPS". Retrieved 29 January 2013. 
  15. ^ "FFG". Retrieved 29 January 2013. 
  16. ^ Henry Petroski (2006). Levees and Other Raised Ground 94 (1). American Scientist. pp. 7–11. 
  17. ^ WMO/GWP Associated Programme on Flood Management "Environmental Aspects of Integrated Flood Management." WMO, 2007
  18. ^ Extension of the Flood Pulse Concept. Retrieved on 2012-06-12.
  19. ^ Birdlife soars above Botswana's floodplains. (2010-10-15). Retrieved on 2012-06-12.
  20. ^ Dyhouse, G. "Flood modelling Using HEC-RAS (First Edition)." Haestad Press, Waterbury (USA), 2003.
  21. ^ United States Army Corps of Engineers. Davis, CA. Hydrologic Engineering Center
  22. ^ BMT WBM Pty Ltd., Brisbane, Queensland "TUFLOW Flood and Tide Simulation Software"
  23. ^ Cabinet Office, UK. "Pitt Review: Lessons learned from the 2007 floods." June 2008.
  24. ^ "WaterWatch". 4 February 2013. Retrieved 4 February 2013. 
  25. ^ "Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network". Retrieved 4 February 2013. 
  26. ^ "NOHRSC". 2 May 2012. Retrieved 4 February 2013. 
  27. ^ "Advanced Hydrologic Prediction System". Retrieved 4 February 2013. 
  28. ^ Worst Natural Disasters In History. (2012-06-07). Retrieved on 2012-06-12.


External links

  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Healthy Water – Flood Water Exposure, health risks, cleanup of flood waters, and links to flood resources
  • Associated Programme on Flood Management from the World Meteorological Organization
  • Flood Risk Management Research Consortium
  • International Flood Initiative
  • Social & Economic Benefits/Costs of Heavy Rain & Flooding, NOAA Economics and Social Sciences
  • UN-CECAR, research and courses on flood disaster risk management and climate change adaptation
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