More people move to flood areas and floods increase, study finds

Published: Aug. 6, 2021 at 7:48 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Historic flooding around the world has caused devastation from Arizona and abroad. And, University of Arizona researchers say, this could happen more often.

Videos and pictures from Zion National Park, China, Germany, Northern and Southern Arizona and even Colorado seemed like scenes out of a movie. Heavy rains, floods and mudslides in all these areas and more happened just in the last couple of weeks.

“Flooding affects more people than any other type of environmental hazard,” said Beth Tellman,an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography at UArizona.

Tellman has been studying the past and future of floods globally. Her team mapped more than 900 floods around the world that have happened in about the past two decades.

Something concerning their study found: millions are living in flood zones, most in Asia. The study found people moving into flood-prone areas increased by about 24 percent world-wide.

“86 million people are moving into places that we’ve seen floods by satellite,” she said.

As people globally leave rural areas and head to metro places, it’s a concern when cities big and small are built along flood planes or don’t have strong zoning laws. Their study also found floods are likely to be more intense and happen more often as global temps rise. Studies have found ocean currents could be changing and heat can increase the amount of precipitation falling from the sky.

“We see both increasing droughts and increasing floods. Arizona’s experiencing this now just this summer, in a drought and also having unprecedented rainfall and flooding,” said Tellman.

“The West is definitely experiencing the most extreme impacts of climate change,” said Jonathan Sullivan, a research scientist UArizona.

The National Weather Service said, on average, almost 90 people a year die in the U.S. from floods—many in cars.

“One of the leading causes of flood deaths in the United States for example are people who are out driving during major storms,” said Sullivan.

The study reveals infrastructure and failing dams could be a big concern as large water amounts could fill up older infrastructure.

Despite causing less than two percent of floods, researchers found dam breaks had the highest increased incidence, 177%, in proportion of population exposed, most outside the US. However, they said it’s an opportunity for cities and governments to prepare for worsening flood conditions.

“Are washes big enough? Are there houses set back far enough from washes? Are there levies and flood control infrastructure that’s going to be large enough and robust enough to withstand some of that larger amount of water?” said Tellman.

Monday the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will publish a new report that will likely show global temperatures rising more quickly. UA researchers said that data could provide more evidence of flood concerns.

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