2.5 Houston Floods- How Are People Dying, and What Can We Do About It?

Tuesday, 24 January 2017: 5:00 PM
615 (Washington State Convention Center )
Jeffry Evans, NWS, League City, TX; and L. Wood

Flooding continues to exceed all other weather hazards in and around Houston when it comes to fatalities over the past 20 years. This became quite evident during the 13 month period from May 2015 through May 2016, when 23 people died from flooding.  All but 3 of these occurred in three ‘historic’ flood events (one and three hourly rainfall rates estimated to exceed the 1 in 500 year probability), which warranted flash flood emergencies from the National Weather Service in Houston/Galveston- May 25-26 2015, April 18-19 2016 and May 26-27 2016. Of these 23 more recent flood deaths, all but 3 were directly related to vehicles.

This presentation will examine flood deaths around the Houston area since 1995, categorizing those which were directly vehicle related versus those in homes or structures. Using this Houston specific data, we will also examine if the current NWS message of ‘turn around, don't drown’ is the best message for flash flood safety as it relates to the nation’s fourth largest city. Should we explore other messaging, such as ‘stay safe, stay home’ given Houston flooding rarely drowns people at home or work? Although many thousands of homes and business were flooded in each of the more recent events, only one drowning was related to a home when a mobile home was washed away in rural Washington county from the May 26, 2016 flooding.  Lastly, we will also discuss whether not we can we do more to educate how to escape a sinking car.  Should we provide messaging beyond 'turn around, don't drown' to help anyone who finds themselves trapped in a sinking car, or one with rapidly rising water around them? 

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