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Forecasters say Ian could douse Florida for days, prompting fears of ‘catastrophic flooding’

  • September 28, 2022

coastal areas along the Gulf of Mexico are even more prone to storm surge floods.Explaining a hurricane’s deadliest and most destructive threat

Do I need to evacuate? How to stay safe as Hurricane Ian approaches Florida’s coast.

What makes Ian dangerous?

Ian is expected to make landfall in Florida, somewhere between Tampa and Fort Myers, and then continue moving through Central Florida as it weakens. It will already be moving as slowly as 5 mph when it hits, which means its path through the state will be slow.

“When these kind of systems slow down, they allow for an even more extended period of time for the same locations to receive rains,” Reyes said. “That exacerbates the potential for localized flooding.”

Reyes said the concentrated metro areas in the storm’s path are especially at risk. Flash and urban flooding are expected mid-to-late week across central and northern Florida, southern Georgia and coastal South Carolina. 

Ponds could help curtail flooding impacts

Florida’s flood management system includes tens of thousands of stormwater ponds, which are built in developed areas to help collect and store stormwater runoff.

In residential and commercial areas where stormwater ponds are common, a “buffer” may help curtail flooding impacts, said Eban Bean, an assistant professor in the University of Florida’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering.

“While they’re not going to be able to catch all of this stormwater volume, they are going to help by slowly releasing that water downstream rather than letting it all come at once whenever the rain is at its most intense,” Bean said. 

Even still, the stormwater ponds just aren’t built to handle the amount of rainwater expected with Ian, and excess volume will likely cause flooding that persists while the mitigation systems drain it out. But neighborhoods in Ian’s path with stormwater ponds, such as Lakewood Ranch which has over 300, may fare better than those without.

How long will it take to recover?

In some areas of the state, structural damage caused by hurricane-level winds could make some residential buildings “uninhabitable” for weeks or even months, the National Weather Service in Miami said.

As for flooding, water could take several days to fully drain because of Florida’s relatively flat topography, Bean said. And recovery also depends on subsequent weather activity, Bean said; if other tropical systems form, it could take much longer.

“This is going to be a test of our (stormwater management) system,” Bean said.

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