I live in Massachusetts and really am not terribly knowledgeable about Florida surface water hydrology. I do know that it is a flat state, it has karst geology and that groundwater plays an important role. I lived in Northern California for a number of years and spent a good bit of time reviewing USGS gage data. The coastal terrain tended to be steep and storms off the Pacific were capable of dropping significant amounts of rain. The first time I saw a gage’s stage reading increase by over 15 feet in less than a day I was rather surprised, but over time I became more comfortable seeing such rapid stage increases.
Florida recently experienced some staggering amounts of rainfall. I heard reports indicating 22 to 26 inches of rain falling. As such, I had to go to the USGS NWIS Florida site to get a handle on how the rivers were responding. As of this writing (May 1st, 2014) a number of gages are currently coded in black which the USGS labels as ‘High’). The Shoal River response caught my eye as it reminds me of responses that look like a Humboldt County California gage might look after a Pacific storm hits.
The Shoal River near Mossy Head (drainage area 123 mi2) was running at 348 cfs (2.8 csm) the morning of April 29 and peaked during the late afternoon on April 30 at 7580 cfs (61.6 csm) . You can also see that the USGS sent hydrographers to the gage during just prior to the peak. Well done USGS and I hope that life and limb were not risked to obtain these data.
The stage change in 39 hours was just shy of 14 feet!
As impressive as this storm was, the historic data at this site indicate five events that were larger than 8,000 cfs. Even though roughly two feet of rain fell, other storms and antecedent conditions in past have led to even greater storm runoff.
As fascinating as I find these data, this is the classic case of what I refer to as the “hydrologist’s dilemma”. We find these rare events exciting and interesting, yet at the same time, many people are suffering and are experiencing a life changing natural disaster. It goes without saying that my thoughts and prayers are going out to the people in Florida who are now facing the challenge of a post flood situation. May your fellow neighbors, place of worship, elected officials, local businesses and insurance companies all be a source of inspiration and may you be a more flood resilient community in the end.