See O. Lewis, The Silver Kings (1947).
The rise and fall of the water level in a river is called the flood wave. Its highest point, or crest, travels progressively downstream. In the upstream portions of a river the flood crest passes quickly. Further downstream the greater volume of water causes slower passage of the flood crest, resulting in floods of longer duration. In many regions, annual floods follow the thaws and rains of spring; flooding also may occur because of thawing ice jamming narrower and shallower parts of a river. In the Arctic regions, especially in the basins of northward flowing rivers, the floods are caused by the thawing of the southern portion of the basin before the ice blocking the lower course of the river melts. Less predictable are floods resulting from ocean waves, called storm surges, pushed onshore by an advancing hurricane, and from sudden torrential flows, called flash floods, following a brief, intense rainstorm or the bursting of a natural or man-made dam or levee. In addition to the duration and quantity of rainfall, the nature of the soil (permeability; state of saturation) of an area affects the frequency of floods.
Generally, flood control measures along a river are attempted at both its headwaters and its low-lying floodplains. Runoff can be detained in the headwaters by planting ground cover on the slopes, building terraces to increase soil infiltration and prevent soil erosion, and building small check dams or retaining ponds to reduce the flow of water. Flood control on the lower floodplains involves building levees to contain the flow and straightening or dredging the channel to improve flow characteristics. Among the chief flood-control projects in the United States are the flood control works along the Mississippi River, the installations of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Glen Canyon and Hoover dams on the Colorado River, and the systems of dams in the Columbia River basin (including Grand Coulee Dam) and in the Missouri River basin.
A flood of the Tiber was recorded in 413 B.C. Records of floods on the Danube date from A.D. 1000. In China some of the world's most disastrous floods have been caused by the unstable Huang He (Yellow River). The river, which flows at or above the level of the bordering land, is contained in part by levees; however, because its channel has gradually become filled with deposited sediment, any appreciable increase in its volume causes the river to overflow and flood the surrounding area. The Netherlands, dependent on its dikes for protection from inundation, has suffered many disastrous floods from the sea and the Rhine and Meuse rivers. In 1970, 1985, and 1991, hundreds of thousands of people in Bangladesh were killed when the combination of high tides and a tropical cyclone (see hurricane) storm surge caused widespread flooding of the low-lying delta of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers.
In the United States the Johnstown, Pa., flood of 1889, in which thousands of lives were lost, was caused by the breaking of an earth dam above the city. Even greater loss of life occurred (1900) in Galveston, Tex., when tide and storm surges engulfed the city after a hurricane. The hurricanes of 1938 on the New England and Long Island coasts and Hurricane Donna in 1960 along the Atlantic coast from Florida to the Long Island Sound were also followed by storm surges. In June, 1972, extremely heavy rainfall associated with a tropical storm inundated the basins of the Chemung and Susquehanna rivers of New York and Pennsylvania, causing severely damaging floods in Corning and Elmira, N.Y., and Wilkes-Barre and Harrisburg, Pa. In July, 1979, Hurricane Claudette deposited a U.S. record of 43 in. (109 cm) of rain in Alvin, Tex., in 24 hours. The worst floods in the United States from river overflow were in 1913 on the Miami River (a tributary of the Ohio), in 1927 and 1973 on the Mississippi River, in 1935-36 on several New England rivers, and in 1993 when the waters of the Missouri, Mississippi, and some of their tributaries migrated well beyond the floodplains that are regularly submerged each spring to inundate parts of nine states.
See P. Briggs, Rampage (1973); C. Clark, Flood (1982).
High-water stage in which water overflows its natural or artificial banks onto normally dry land, such as a river inundating its floodplain. Uncontrollable floods likely to cause considerable damage commonly result from excessive rainfall in a brief period, but they may also result from ice jams during the spring rise in rivers, and from tsunamis. Common measures of flood control include improving channels, constructing protective levees and storage reservoirs, and implementing programs of soil and forest conservation to retard and absorb runoff from storms.
Learn more about flood with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Flooding may result from the volume of water within a body of water, such as a river or lake, exceeding the total capacity of its bounds, with the result that some of the water flows or sits outside of the normal perimeter of the body. It can also occur in rivers, when the strength of the river is so high it flows right out of the river channel, particularly at corners or meanders.
The word comes from the Old English flod, a word common to Teutonic languages (compare German Flut, Dutch vloed from the same root as is seen in flow, float).
For example: Tropical Storm Alberto, the famous 1994 storm, produced heavy flooding across Georgia, Alabama and northwest Florida and created between 400-600 million dollars worth of damage in the Southeastern US in 1994 United States Dollars
In western countries, rivers prone to floods are often carefully managed. Defences such as levees, bunds, reservoirs, and weirs are used to prevent rivers from bursting their banks. Coastal flooding has been addressed in Europe with coastal defences, such as sea walls and beach nourishment.
Venice has a similar arrangement, although it is already unable to cope with very high tides. The defenses of both London and Venice will be rendered inadequate if sea levels continue to rise.
The largest and most elaborate flood defenses can be found in the Netherlands, where they are referred to as Delta Works with the Oosterschelde dam as its crowning achievement. These works were built in response to the North Sea flood of 1953 of the southwestern part of the Netherlands. The Dutch had already built one of the world's largest dams in the north of the country: the Afsluitdijk (closing occurred in 1932).
Currently the Saint Petersburg Flood Prevention Facility Complex is to be finished by 2008, in Russia, to protect Saint Petersburg from storm surges. It also has a main traffic function, as it completes a ring road around Saint Petersburg. Eleven dams extend for 25.4 kilometres and stand eight metres above water level.
The New Orleans Metropolitan Area, 35% of which sits below sea level, is protected by hundreds of miles of levees and flood gates. This system failed catastrophically during Hurricane Katrina in the City Proper and in eastern sections of the Metro Area, resulting in the inundation of approximately 50% of the Metropolitan area, ranging from a few inches to twenty feet in coastal communities.
In an act of successful flood prevention, the Federal Government of the United States offered to buy out flood-prone properties in the United States in order to prevent repeated disasters after the 1993 flood across the Midwest. Several communities accepted and the government, in partnership with the state, bought 25,000 properties which they converted into wetlands. These wetlands act as a sponge in storms and in 1995, when the floods returned, the government didn't have to expend resources in those areas.
(See Crossing the Lines)