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Hotchalk Global

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A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

The Science of Floods

Many of you will experience an overabundance of rainfall sometime in your lifetime. Here in the Midwest we call those floods. When a significant amount of rain falls on already saturated ground the water tends to cause the rivers to overflow their banks, basements to flood and new lakes and ponds to appear where there were once fields and parking lots. This is really not fun to clean up but there is a ton of science to be learned in these soggy times.

Floods can happen anywhere. There are flash floods in many regions when the rainfall is concentrated in narrow canyons or arroyos. These are dangerous and often come with very little warning. As with tornadoes there are terms (like watch and warning) associated with floods and flood awareness. These are detailed by FEMA at their site on floods.

At the National Weather Service site you can click on an interactive map and see up to the hour details of flooding anywhere in the United States. This is an interesting site to check frequently and have the students select one location each and chart the flood conditions each day of the year. Some sites will have no flooding and some will flood frequently. It is interesting to see what location the students select if you tell them to select a location that they think will have a significant number of floods.

There are some interesting facts associated with floods.  Water is such a powerful force that it takes just 6 inches of rapidly moving water to knock a person down. There are a host of interesting facts at the Weather Channel’s site on floods.

Historical floods can be a fascinating study of data and disasters. The Johnstown flood in 1889 killed over 2200 people and is the flood with the highest death toll in US History. The Big Thompson Flood in Colorado in 1979 killed 139 people and is better known because it was so recent.  China, England and The Netherlands have all had floods that took the lives of over 100,000 people.  Two floods in China killed over a million people in one flood. Those are the major floods.

There is a wonderful site from PBS on floods that includes video, teacher’s guides and first person narratives describing floods from people to geography, geology, hydrology and recovery.

Even the Centers for Disease Control and “How Stuff Works” have sites that detail all about floods. These sites are gold mines for background readings and activities relating to flooding.

Any of your students who have survived a flood or even the mess of a soggy basement will have first person accounts of what it was like before, during and after the floods. This experience will create a great deal of interest as these stories are always colorful and filled with unique details.
Water will seep in wherever it has a chance. That nature of water makes it a useful material and a nuisance. To discuss water in both those context creates a rich discussion or lesson starter as many students only think of water in the positive frame.

So, as I use large fans to dry out my messy basement I am thinking of what science I can teach with this experience. I am looking at fluid dynamics, waterproofing materials (materials science) and evaporation rates. If I throw in a little lab on evaporation, some data interpretation on flooding and rainfall in our area I think this could develop into something very interesting this fall. But first the soggy carpet has to go.

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