Andrew Revkin, author of the New York Times terrific Dot Earth blog, has a post this morning, “Downpours + Steep Hills + Sleeping Campers = Horror,” about yesterday’s flash floods in Arkansas which have killed at least 20 people with others still missing. Revkin’s post explains what happened and notes that “a network of thousands of streamflow gauges that can help generate flash flood warnings is steadily eroding under tightening budgets.”
The nightmarish flash floods in southwestern Arkansas early Friday morning that swept away dozens of campers — with some 20 dead and many more still missing — resulted from a horrible confluence of a late-night burst of extreme rains over a region of steep-sided, isolated river valleys long popular with folks eager for a taste of wild nature.
The image above, from the Little Rock, Ark., Web site of the National Weather Service, shows the progression of the downpours Thursday night. The weather service, according to news reports, issued a flash flood warning at 2 a.m. Friday, but it was of little help to the sleeping campers in the hilly region with scant cell-phone service. The news article in The Times includes wrenching firsthand descriptions of the nightmare scenario as the Caddo and Little Missouri rivers rose yards in minutes. There is a chart at the weather service site showing just how swiftly the waters rose. Jeff Masters has an excellent summary of the meteorological backdrop.
Earlier this spring, the weather service reviewed flood risks and safety tips — with a focus on the devastating debris flows that can swiftly develop in flash floods….Around the United States, a network of thousands of streamflow gauges that can help generate flash flood warnings is steadily eroding under tightening budgets. In the wake of epic flooding around Nashville, Tenn., earlier this spring, Joe Romm pointed out that neglecting this gauge network is a bad idea given that climate change is increasing the odds of rain falling in dangerous downpours.
Revkin’s full post can be found here.