Seriously, science: Recent Midwestern flooding leaves devastation in its tracks, affects 5C students’ hometowns

A photo depicting the flooding at Camp Ashland. Houses and trees are more than halfway submerged in water.
The flooding at Camp Ashland trapped vehicles on the high ground and damaged buildings. Nebraska has experienced its worst flooding ever, displacing hundreds of people and causing millions of dollars in damages to homes, farmland and cities. (Courtesy: Staff Sgt. Herschel Talley of the Nebraska National Guard)

In the past few weeks, stories of recent flooding in Nebraska and neighboring states have made headlines across the country. This natural disaster has inundated acres of land, forced many people from their property and even affected the homes of some 5C students.

While the Midwest is no stranger to these kinds of tragedies, this one has been particularly devastating. Nicole Moore, a Pomona College geology professor, said the disaster formed after a perfect storm of weather patterns.

Leading up to the flooding, she said there was “high intensity, short duration rainfall, [where] the water levels increased over several days due to continued snow melt over that time.”

In addition to the rainfall, there was also a bomb cyclone that formed on March 12.

“Such a storm is effectively like a hurricane over land, and forms very quickly when atmospheric pressure drops dramatically in less than 24 hours,” Moore said.

An excess of water is the main culprit for a flood. Floods occur when “the water level flowing through a stream or channel exceeds the banks of the channel and spreads laterally out along the floodplain of the channel,” Moore said. This means that it has the ability to wipe out anything in its path, including houses, farm animals and people.

John Little HM ’20 lives on the border of Nebraska and Iowa, and said that floods are common in the area. In his seven years living there, he said multiple floods have occurred, and his house was affected in both 2011 and this year.

“Only a small section of our property got flooded, but nearby in the town … it’s absolutely swamped,” he said.

Although floods are not new to the region, this particular storm has been especially disastrous. Alyson Smock PO ’20, a native of Cozad, Nebraska, said “this sort of devastation has never happened within my lifetime or my parents’ lifetimes.”

Moore said she was devastated by the magnitude of the flooding.

“Basically the entirety of Nebraska, as well as large parts of South Dakota and Iowa, were inundated with water,” she said.

Those who are more severely affected by flooding — whose houses are virtually underwater — are often taken in by family and friends. “They really go anywhere they can,” Little said.

“You really can’t stop this amount of water,” he added. Even with the dams that are in place, the area still floods. The water can cause property damage and the clean-up, as well as rebuilding, will take time and billions of dollars, according to Moore. Smock said that the state’s economy will likely feel the damage to farmland and livestock for years to come.

Caitlyn Fick SC ’19 is TSL’s science columnist. She is a chemistry major who enjoys mountains, trees, water and dogs.

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