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East Coast Hurricanes Manage to Flood Midwest

Nov 11, 2014 04:42 PM EST
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East Coast hurricanes manage to flood the US Midwest, despite being located hundreds of miles inland from the nearest ocean, according to a new study.

You would think that North Atlantic hurricanes have nothing to do with the grassy plains and rolling terrain of the US Midwest, so these findings may come as a surprise.

"When you hear about hurricanes or tropical cyclones you think about storm surges and wind damage near the coast," Gabriele Villarini, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa, said in a statement. "But it's much more than that."

In fact, flooding waters from a single tropical cyclone, or hurricane, can affect a whopping 10 to 15 states - even ones located hundreds of miles from the coast. And with the US East Coast expecting daily tidal floods by 2045 as a result of rising global sea levels, the wide expanse that makes the Midwest should be a little concerned.

"Our results indicate that flooding from tropical cyclones affects large areas of the United States and the Midwest, as far inland as Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan," added Villarini.

(Photo : American Meteorological Society) The flood ratio map for Hurricane Ike (2008) shows areas in yellow and orange that approach or exceed 10-year flood peaks at their respective stream gauge stations.

And with Nov. 30 marking the end of the 2014 hurricane season, these findings may be of interest. Villarini and his colleagues based their results on discharge records collected at 3,090 US Geological Survey (USGS) stream gauge stations from 1981 to 2011. They compared maximum water discharges recorded by these USGS gauges with storms seen over the Midwest and eastern states. They were able to thus create maps detailing the relationship between inland flooding and tropical cyclones.

As it turns out, these North Atlantic storms impact areas of the United States away from Florida, the East Coast and the Gulf Coast, reaching as far as the southeastern corner of Iowa.

The results are described further in the journal Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

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