Archive for the ‘Tennessee Floods’ Category

Don’t VOLUNTEER to Be a Flood Victim!

May 14, 2010
Flood Waters Kill
There’s more to flood waters than meets the eye.

Charlotte, TN, 5/13/10; Revised, 4/27/11

Here are some reflections on the power and danger of flood waters, put down as the Cumberland sulks back within its banks, and the months-long process of cleaning up Middle Tennessee gets into gear (and revised as flood waters rise almost a year later.)

First, let’s dump that  “Save the Planet” sentimentality, OK? Look at some of the pictures of this flood. Look at pictures of the Iceland Volcano, Eyjafjallajökull. (Eyzeforjutosey!) For some superb pictures, try National Geographic online.

Feeling small and insignificant, yet? Good. Now, tell me how plastic bags and SUVs can destroy this immense, powerful Earth, when all it will take is an unconscious, negligent shrug for this planet to destroy the human race. One seismic twitch, a raised terrestrial eyebrow, an atmospheric sigh, and humanity is — not history, because somebody has to be around to WRITE history — simply and permanently gone.

If you still harbor doubts about how insignificant you are before the forces of nature, review some video of the Tsunamis in Japan. Understand? Good. Let’s move on.

The force that flowing water can exert on objects challenges the most fertile imagination. Like an advancing line of indifferent bulldozers, it pushes aside man’s monuments, or tumbles them ahead like toys,  and moves on downhill.

According to the recording instruments at the Cumberland River in Clarksville, downstream from Ashland City, the depth at the peak of the flood was 57.36 feet, at 9:00 AM, on May 6th. At that depth, the rate of flow past that point was more than 300 thousand cubic feet of waterper second. A cubic foot of water weighs just less than 62.5 pounds. That means 18,750,000 pounds of water passed the gage every second, at peak.

Depth (L) and Flow rate (R) of the Cumberland at Clarksville, downstream from Nashville (NWS

Rainfall, May 1 & 2, 2010 (NWS)

A railroad train, consisting of a typical diesel locomotive and 31 loaded freight cars weighs around nine million pounds. That flow rate was equivalent, then, to the weight of two such trains passing the measurement station every second. No wonder a river can push along the contents of a neighborhood, including houses, cars, trees and topsoil.

Six inches of running water can drag an adult off his feet, and then beat him against immovable objects like tree stumps or guard rails, rendering him helpless. Of course, “six inches” of muddy water can be hiding a six-foot hole in the pavement that the water undermined minutes before you arrived at the flooding.

washed-out pavement, TN Hwy 7, Maury Co., TN

A foot and a half of flood water, moving at six miles an hour, can turn a car into a rudderless, powerless, leaky life raft. A foot and a half of running water looks innocuous enough — especially in the dark — unless you know how strong the tug is on anything in its way.

Or, unless it’s after dark, and you think the water is much shallower than that. You don’t know the truth, until the car starts moving on its own…

Of course, by then, it may be to late. Your car-turned-into-a-boat turns into a coffin.

More people are killed nationwide in flash floods and river floods, on average, than in tornadoes, hurricanes, and lightning.  Most of those deaths could have been avoided, if the people thinking of crossing running water had only known how powerful it is.

Twenty-three, flood-related fatalities have been confirmed in Tennessee so far, according to Tennessee’s Emergency Management Agency . Two more bodies have been found in the Nashville area as of May 13, and both are tentatively described as flood victims.

The Harpeth River is a tributary of the Cumberland, and is usually a mild-mannered scenic “stream” that plays host to a lot of leisure-time activities, including fishing, boating and camping. My first chance to see the flooding close-up came two days after the rain had stopped, on Tuesday, May 4th. The bridge was closed to traffic, but no longer under water.

Flooded Harpeth

The treeline in the distance is usually the far bank of the Harpeth, as seen from the Montgomery Bell Bridge, Cheatham County, TN. Not on 5/4/10.

The Harpeth River Campground, adjacent to the Montgomery Bell Bridge, was under ten or twelve feet of water when I visited the still-closed bridge on May 4th, 2010.

It might have looked like an inviting ride in a raft or tube, but, standing on the bridge, feeling the faint vibration of the brisk flow of flood water under the deck, it looked forbidding and ominous to me. I looked over the upstream side at the uprooted, whole trees, building materials and trash pressed against the bridge by the current, and wondered what was just under the muddy water, ready to tear a hole in a boat hull or crush a swimmer.


Along with trees and other hazards, flood waters may contain surprises. A snake crawls toward shore along the Harpeth

Fortunately, nobody in the area of the Harpeth Campground thought a swim or float would be fun, that day. In fact, as I listened to the scanner, the only people willing to risk everything to get on that water were the rescuers.

Ordinary boaters, as well as fire and police rescue squads, fish and game officers and professional water rescue crews were picking people off the roofs of their cars and houses, or anything that would float, and, occasionally, right out of the water. That activity went on every hour of daylight for days, and the crews who did it had to be exhausted by the time it was too dark to continue.

These people put their personal lives and their safety on hold for most of a week to do what they did; I salute them.

For stunning photos of flood rescues from last week,browse the Nashville newspaper, The Tennessean.

Don’t volunteer to be a flood victim, Volunteers. The flood will kill you if it you give half a chance. It doesn’t need any help from you.

For more information on flood safety, I will do something I don’t usually do: defer to a government authority on the subject. If you don’t have time for this, here’s one more chance:

flooding sign

Nature will get you eventually. Don’t volunteer to drown. (National Weather Service Flood Safety Awareness)