Why Does the Riverwalk Flood So Often?

Meteorologist Anna Sims has the Answer
Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 3:17 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - This time last week, the Chattahoochee River was rising quickly and rose above flood stages going into the afternoon and nighttime hours. Portions of the valley received upwards of 9 inches of rainfall within a 48-hour period, and once the flash flooding receded, all the water headed straight for the Chattahoochee River, causing portions of the Riverwalk to flood.

Anyone who has lived in or around the Columbus area knows that the Riverwalk floods a few times a year when we pick up excessive amounts of rainfall in short periods of time. But you may not know why this happens so often or that it was actually planned this way!

The Riverwalk was created as a flood mitigation technique in efforts to protect the floodplain along the Chattahoochee River by keeping it from being developed by another entity. Non-recreational development along flood prone stretches of the river would lead to an additional negative impact during high rainfall events.

Laura Belanger, senior service hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Atlanta says, “by using those areas for recreational purposes specifically, you can offer a service or an amenity to a group of people while at the same time responsibly using the space that you would expect to flood”.

You may be wondering why it floods so often here in Columbus though…. Well, it all goes back to where the water is coming from. Being that we are south of Atlanta and the Metro, we must consider water flowing into the river from as far north as Lake Lanier – that is over 150 miles from Columbus!

Along with water flowing into the river from areas upstream, we also must account for the local water effects that will cause the river to rise like enhanced rainfall, flash flooding, and runoff that enters the river quickly causing the levels to rise rapidly. The Chattahoochee River here in Columbus is a very complex hydrological system that needs to be monitored closely during intense rainfall events.

Something you may not know is that flooding is the second highest weather-related killer in the United States. Each year, approximately 85 deaths are reported as a direct result of flood events – for comparison, hurricanes only directly cause approximately 46 deaths per year and tornadoes directly cause approximately 68 deaths per year. That’s why you should stay with Storm Team 9 for the latest forecast when hazardous weather is possible.

So, some important tips for staying safe during flooding events include reducing speed on roadways, never driving over flooded roadways, and having multiple reliable ways to get weather warnings like the WTVM Weather App and NOAA Weather Radios.

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