State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Was It a Flash Flood or Not? Categorizing Disaster Types in Historical Records

waterway through rice field
An aquaculture landscape in Rajapur, Bangladesh. Aquaculture farmers in Bangladesh tend complex aquatic systems that produce fish, vegetables and rice. These systems are especially vulnerable to flooding, which can increase salinity and affect fish health and production. Photo: Jacquelyn Turner, IRI

One of the important applications of climate knowledge is in the area of disasters. Being able to predict the scale of a potential disaster and the risks a disaster could impose on a community in the future is valuable and crucial information for not just government agencies and aid organizations, but also to support individuals and communities to both build strategies to become more resilient, and to anticipate when a disaster is likely to occur.

Disasters can differ widely based on region, climate, time of year, socioeconomic context, and other factors. However, while we have seen significant advances in understanding risk for some disaster types, such as drought and hurricanes, progress has lagged behind for other types — such as floods and particularly flash floods. While floods differ based on the water source and land area, it is generally recognized that flash floods can be especially dangerous.

Andrew KruczkiewiczAgathe BucherieSimon Mason, and their colleagues have delved into these definitions for a recent paper. We asked Agathe and Andrew  for their insight into this intersection of climate data and application.

Some people might see dividing floods into different types as splitting hairs, but it’s true that a “coastal” flood is very different in many ways from a “flash” flood. Why do you think these distinctions are crucial? Why do we need to categorize disasters?

Read the rest of the interview on IRI’s news site.

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Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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