Extreme Flooding on Both Sides of the Atlantic Brings a Wake of Fear

Kathy Covington, center, watches the powerful floodwaters of the Pearl River rush through her yard Feb. 16 in Florence, Miss. A stranger, right, stopped to give her support.

Residents watch the floodwaters rise on Mississippi’s Pearl River. Image: Barbara Gauntt/Clarion Ledger

For parts of the Southern United States, this past winter has been one of the wettest on record and more rain is expected this week. Non-stop rains on top of already-saturated ground have brought devastating flooding that has forced people in Mississippi to flee their homes. So much so in fact that Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency last Saturday.

As USA Today reported, in Jackson, Mississippi, “hundreds of residents either watched their homes flood over the weekend or worried their residence would soon be drenched as the Pearl River crested Monday at 36.8 feet, its third-highest level ever recorded – behind only 1979 and 1983.”

What’s Happening: Mississippi’s Pearl River crested at the highest level it’s been in decades and as CNN reported, isn’t expected to drop below major flood stage until sometime Wednesday. Families (especially those with small children) piled into kayaks as they tried to figure out where to go to escape the floodwaters.

Hinds County Emergency Management Director Ricky Moore warned that “There’s a lot of contamination, a lot of sewage. It’s not safe. There’s a lot of swift water, a lot of unknowns. We don’t need a tragedy out of this.”

While Governor Tate said that he doesn’t “anticipate the situation to end any time soon. It will be days before we are out of the woods and the water starts to recede.”

Why This Matters: Just last year, catastrophic and lingering flooding in the Midwest cost hundreds of millions of dollars in lost crops. However now, as the Weather Channel warned, there are troubling signs spring 2020 could bring a repeat of widespread flooding in the nation’s midsection somewhat reminiscent of last year’s massive event. 

Meanwhile, across the pond in Britain, a storm named Dennis (classified as a “weather bomb” by the national weather service, the Meteorological Office) unleashed wind gusts of 91 miles per hour, becoming one of the most intense winter storms to grip the North Atlantic. As the New York Times reported, “The impact on the ground brought chaos to parts of England, Wales and Scotland, with more than half a month’s worth of rain falling in one day.”

While these particular events can’t be attributed to climate change, a warming planet has shifted rainfall patterns, making heavy rain more frequent in many parts of the world. As the UCS explained, with human alteration of the land—like the engineering of rivers, the destruction of natural protective systems, and increased construction on floodplains—many parts of the United States (as well as in other nation-states) are at greater risk of experiencing destructive and costly floods.

On the other end of the climate spectrum: scientists worry that California may be slipping into another drought after a relatively dry winter.

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