Friday, 18 November 2016

The Louisiana flood - connecting the dots

©Frank J. Grass

As indicated in my previous post, I will endeavor to highlight a few cases of loss and damage, past and present, across the five geographical regions of the world. One of the main events that have occurred in the recent past is the flooding in Louisiana.

The floods

The month of August will perhaps be remembered by the residents of Louisiana, United States of America (USA), as one of the darkest months to have ever occurred. Described as possibly the worst disaster to ever happen in the U.S, termed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration termed it "a once-in-every-500-years event" - Louisiana flooding event is a clear manifestation of how unprecedented natural hazards can be. Many news outlets - including BBC, CNN, The Guardian, New York Times, among others - reported of how devastating this event, both to the lives and properties of Louisianans.
A state of devastation as household properties in Ascension Parish are destroyed due to floods ©Reauters

The statistics

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) records;
  • 13 people died
  • 200,000 people were relocated
  • 60,646 houses were damaged
  • More than 100,000 vehicles destroyed
  • More than 20,000 businesses affected
  • Roughly 10 billion dollars in economic losses
Other sources however indicate that approximately 507,495 people were either directly or indirectly affected - 11 per cent of Louisiana's population. Notably, less than 20% of all the damaged homes had been insured against such natural hazards hence the burden of 'restoring dignity' lay on the individuals, the government and humanitarian agencies like the Red Cross.

This is not the first flood event to occur in Louisiana. The University of Colorado's Dartmouth Flood Observatory database indicates that flood events of lower magnitude have occurred in Louisiana before. Between 28 August - 7 September 2012, the Hurricane Isaac led to massive flooding in both Southern Mississippi and Louisiana (83938.23 square kilometers) killing one person, displacing around 60,000 people and causing undocumented damages to properties. 

In March 2016, Louisiana was faced with flood as water rose above normal ruining around 1,200 homes and leading to at least 4 deaths and an evacuation of approximately 3,300 people. This resulted into economic losses of 1.3 billion dollars.

The Climate Science...

A recently published synopsis and attribution study done by Wang, Zhao and Gillies (2016) attributes the 'strange' flood to "...intense precipitation produced by a slow-moving tropical low pressure system interacting with an eastward-traveling baroclinic trough to the north". Vahedifard,AghaKouchak,and Jafari,(2016) argues that due to the recent high temperatures experienced in Louisiana, especially around July 2016, moisture built up in the atmosphere and in turn increased the risk of floods.

In my article on the emission gap I explained how the trend in emissions and subsequent global warming poses a risk to ecosystems in terms of losses and damages caused by climate extreme events. This article published on the guardian also explains in depth how climate change led to Louisiana floods.  as the Scientific American answers scientific questions on why, when, how etc


There is a general agreement that the August flood in Louisiana did not come while ringing the bells loudly enough. No one was prepared for what transpired. When the level of awareness is near zero, people become more vulnerable and the risks of exposure  to hazards increase, resulting into devastating state of affairs, as statistics have shown. People's sense of belonging and endowments are eroded in a flash, and the level of helplessness gets heightened. When it remains business-as-usual in a climatic sense, then you can only expect the situation to worsen in future - for instance, a future clouded with more intense and frequent floods. Is it not surprising that the existing data shows an upward trend in the losses and damages that have occurred in Louisiana since 1980s due to floods. 

In summary, therefore, actions to mitigate against future should therefore be centered on the following;
  • Reinforcing physical infrastructure
  • Improving observation of weather related events through an integrated system
  • Efficient communication of hazard warnings
  • Rapid response and insurance schemes
  • Efficient management of land use and land use changes
  • Managing greenhouse gas emissions, both in the near and long term - this is a global commitment
  • Managing people's attitudes towards weather-related information, and events.