Flash Flood Tragedy...Lessons That Won't be Learned

Late last week, southwest Arkansas was pounded by two rounds of flooding rain.  The second round that rolled through on Friday June 11th, was responsible for killing 20 people and is one of the worst flash flood disasters in recent memory.  The information below is courtesy of the NWS Office in Little Rock: 

 
Heavy Rain on June 10-11, 2010
 
A storm system ("L") tracked into Arkansas from the southwest with scattered to numerous showers and thunderstorms on 06/10/2010. While high pressure began building over the southeast United States on June 10th, a storm system aloft moved slowly around the high from northeast Texas into southwest Arkansas.
In the picture: A storm system ("L") tracked into Arkansas from the southwest with scattered to numerous showers and thunderstorms on 06/10/2010. The system moved around a building ridge of high pressure ("H") in the southeast United States.

 

More About the Storm
Before the storm system arrived, it was responsible for significant flash flooding in Texas. On June 9th, the system dumped more than 10 inches of rain about 20 miles northeast of San Antonio (south central Texas) in Comal and Guadalupe Counties. Several people were rescued from rooftops and evacuations were ordered. On the 10th, similar precipitation amounts closed roads in Tyler (northeast Texas), and there were numerous rescues from flooded homes in neighboring towns. Ironically, the rain hit during the early morning hours in both cases as it did in Arkansas (on the 11th).

 

The system brought two rounds of showers and thunderstorms from southwest into central sections of the state during the afternoon and evening hours. The satellite showed one area of clouds and precipitation from southwest into central Arkansas during the afternoon of 06/10/2010...followed closely by an MCS (Mesoscale Convective System...or large cluster of showers and thunderstorms) by evening.
In the picture: The satellite showed one area of clouds and precipitation from southwest into central Arkansas during the afternoon of 06/10/2010. This was followed closely by an MCS (Mesoscale Convective System...or large cluster of showers and thunderstorms) by evening.

 

Heavy rain occurred from northeast Texas into western Arkansas in the twenty four hour period ending at 700 am CDT on 06/11/2010. By the early morning hours of the 11th, rain was widespread from Texarkana (Miller County) to Little Rock (Pulaski County). One to three inch amounts were common, with locally over four inches.
In the picture: Heavy rain occurred from northeast Texas into western Arkansas in the twenty four hour period ending at 700 am CDT on 06/11/2010.

 

Twenty four hour rainfall totals through 700 am CDT on the 11th included 6.83 inches at Mount Ida (Montgomery County), 6.78 inches at Hopper (Montgomery County) and 6.55 inches at Glenwood (Pike County). Twenty four hour precipitation through 700 am CDT on 06/11/2010.
In the picture: Twenty four hour precipitation through 700 am CDT on 06/11/2010.

 

The WSR-88D (Doppler Weather Radar) showed storms continually developing to the southeast of Mena (Polk County) and moving over the Albert Pike Recreation Area (Montgomery County)...or "X"... during the early morning hours of 06/11/2010.
In the picture: The WSR-88D (Doppler Weather Radar) showed storms continually developing to the southeast of Mena (Polk County) and moving over the Albert Pike Recreation Area (Montgomery County)...or "X"... during the early morning hours of 06/11/2010.
 
With this much rain, there was some flash flooding. As many as 200 to 300 people camping at the Albert Pike Recreation Area (Montgomery County) were awakened to a rapidly unfolding high water situation, with water rescues necessary. 

 

Link of Interest
Flood Pictures

 

Widespread flash flooding occurred around the Albert Pike Recreation Area (Montgomery County) early on 06/11/2010.
Tragically, at least nineteen fatalities were reported at this location.
In the picture: Widespread flash flooding occurred at the Albert Pike Recreation Area (Montgomery County) early on 06/11/2010. There are several small creeks and streams in and around the campground, including the Little Missouri River. These tributaries rose rapidly during the event (due to at least six inches of rain in just a few hours).

 

Link of Interest
A Closer Look at the Site

 

The Little Missouri River, which runs through the area, climbed almost 20 feet in just a few hours at the nearby town of Langley (Pike County).

 

Why Was This Event So Deadly?
(1) Rainfall Rates: Two to three inches of rain fell per hour for several hours.
(2) Terrain: Water flowed rapidly down hillsides, collected in small streams and creeks, and was funnelled into the Little Missouri River.
(3) Type of Tributary: Most rivers rise and fall slowly over a period of days. The Little Missouri River is more flashy, and goes up and down in hours.
(4) Time of Day: This event occurred in the middle of the night when people were asleep.
(5) Location: The remoteness of the area made it difficult to relay information.

 

The river crested just over 23 feet, which is the highest level since records began in 1988 (according to the USGS...or United States Geological Survey). This shattered the previous record by 10 feet!

 

Little Missouri River at Langley (Pike County) on 06/11/2010
Time Stage (ft)
200 am CDT 3.81
230 am CDT 5.83
300 am CDT 9.87
330 am CDT 13.91
400 am CDT 17.70
430 am CDT 20.57
500 am CDT 22.30
530 am CDT 23.39
600 am CDT 22.40
630 am CDT 19.41

 

In a media interview, a woman living in the area most of her life said an event of this magnitude had not occurred since May, 1968. However, at that time, it was not the popular camping spot it is today.

 

Deadliest Flash Flood Event?
There have been memorable flash flood episodes in Arkansas over the years. On May 19, 1990, water several feet deep flowed down Central Avenue in Hot Springs (Garland County), with one person killed. The northwest half of the state experienced the worst flooding in years on December 2-3, 1982. Moisture along a stalled front yielded more than a foot of rain in spots, and six deaths resulted (mostly in automobiles driving into high water). On September 13, 1978, 10 to 13 inches of rain from Benton (Saline County) to southwest Little Rock (Pulaski County) was responsible for ten fatalities. At Harrison (Boone County), Crooked Creek overflowed its banks and sent a torrent of water into town on May 7, 1961. Four people lost their lives.

While these episodes were historic, the Montgomery County event may be the deadliest on record in the state.

It appears this was the deadliest of all weather related events across the region since the tornado outbreak of March 1, 1997 (25 fatalities).

 

About 15 miles to the east, the Caddo River at Caddo Gap (Montgomery County) also experienced significant rises (roughly 17 feet) between 300 am and 800 am CDT on the 11th. Flooding occurred in the community, and farther downstream at Glenwood (Pike County).

 

Storm Reports
There were several reports of flash flooding in western Arkansas early on June 11, 2010. For a look at some reports, click here.
Preliminary reports of flash flooding in the Little Rock County Warning Area on June 11, 2010 (in red).
Submit a storm report.
In the picture: Preliminary reports of flash flooding in the Little Rock County Warning Area on June 11, 2010 (in red).

The sad thing about this whole disaster, is that simple awareness and planning could have saved many lives.

1.  Know the forecast if you plan to recreate outdoors.  Rather it is camping and having to deal with flash flooding, or simply hiking and having to worry about lightning, preparedness starts with knowing what the weather is going to do.  For example, I hike up Pikes Peak once a year, and will not even think about going, if there is even a remote chance of a t-storm.  Lightning is unnerving anywhere, let alone above timberline...

2.  Having a safety plan is the key.  Knowing what to do when severe weather threatens is key when at home, but even more essential when outdoors.  Sometimes it is as simple as running indoors, but it can be as complicated as finding a mode of transportation to seek higher ground.  Being aware of your surroundings and determining how those surroundings will impact you in case of emergency is most of the battle.  I.E. maybe camping next to a river when it is already swollen isn't such a good idea...

3.  Including a battery powered radio or weather radio in your camping gear.  It will keep you in the weather loop, and give you a heads up in case of severe weather.

4.  Don't be an amateur outdoorsman or outdoorswoman if you plan to take your kids along.  Know what you are doing, especially if with young kids.  In times of emergency they are looking for guidance and if you don't know what to do, it creates nothing but panic. 

I know a lot of this seems like good common sense, but many people ignore the simple stuff and that can lead to disaster.  One of my favorite sayings by the late Coach John Wooden is, " failing to prepare is preparing to fail".  So many lives could have been saved by just simple common sense.  It is bad enough that the tragedy occurred, but it is even more tragic that something similar will happen again.

Chief Meteorologist Brian Bledsoe

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