Historic floods across country prompt concern for local expert

Aug 26, 2022, 1:01 PM

cedar city two men pumping water...

Cedar City broke out pumps and heavy equipment after flash floods sent a river of debris to overflow the bed of Coal Creek. Photo: Maile Wilson-Edwards

SALT LAKE CITY — Floods across the U.S. are occurring this year in historic quantities. There have been five 1 in 1,000-year floods all within the months of July and Aug. 

KSL TV meteorologist Mathew Johnson said that in these areas “there is usually a .1 percent chance of seeing this magnitude of flood on any given day of the year.” 

Some numbers from Johnson put things in perspective.

“The very historical rainstorm in Death Valley, Aug. 5, they saw 1.46 inches of rainfall within a couple of hours. That’s over 75 percent of their annual rainfall that fell with just a couple of hours.”  

Another expert, Dr. Jon Meyer, the assistant state climatologist at the Utah Climate Center, told KSL NewsRadio in an email that these monsoonal thunderstorms are slow-moving and localized. Releasing significant amounts of rain within a few minutes to an hour. Meyer says these conditions spell disaster, especially for areas with dry topsoil.

“You’d think that by being in the middle of a drought and having really dry topsoils, rains would more easily absorb into the ground, but it’s actually the opposite where dry soils become hydrophobic and resist any infiltration,” said Meyer. 

Relationship between historic floods and climate change

As air temperature increases, the atmosphere can hold more water vapor said, Meyer. These floods become historic when increased temperatures add more evaporation from oceans and lands into the atmosphere.  

“This all works together to supercharge precipitation events as storms are more likely to have more available horsepower from the higher amounts of water vapor that turns into rain,” said Meyer. 

Additionally, as temperatures continue to rise around the country, these extreme weather events can become more commonplace said Meyer. 

“Because the relationship between air temperature and capacity to hold water vapor is exponential, the risk for these types of events is expected to continue to accelerate towards more and more frequent and extreme values,” said Meyer 

Is Utah ready for a historic flood?

Although Meyer and his team completed a study re-evaluating Utah’s probable maximum precipitation estimates, which the state will then use to determine infrastructure safety criteria, Meyer said it is hard to know if the data gathered will be a viable foundation to build upon.

“Due to the shifting of precipitation towards more extreme amounts already observed in recent decades and the expectation for that trend to continue to worsen,” said Meyer. “The question is will our older infrastructure, built using outdated assumptions of worst-case precipitation events, be able to safely handle future extreme precipitation events.”

An example of extreme precipitation events happened this week, which lead Gov. Spencer Cox to issue a state of emergency in Moab and other areas of Utah affected by flooding. Meyer said the main concern is as these extreme weather events become more commonplace, can Utah’s water-management infrastructure keep up?



We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.


The storm surge from Tropical Storm Alberto floods the streets in Surfside Beach, Texas, on Wednesd...

Carter Williams,

Flood watch issued for parts of Utah as tropical storm remnants arrive

Parts of Utah will be on a flood watch on June 21 as a tropical storm moves through the state. Flash flooding is also possible on Saturday.

17 hours ago

Fallen tree branches caused by strong winds in Orem are pictured on Monday. A cold front is causing...

Carter Williams, KSL.COM

Rare June freeze warning issued for parts of Utah; wind tied to some of 6,500 outages

Summer might start this week, but a low-pressure system arriving in Utah is forecast to make some parts of the state feel quite wintry.

4 days ago

High wind speeds in Utah County caused property damage on Monday, June 17, 2024....

Emma Keddington

Portions of Utah placed on high wind alert

The Salt Lake National Weather Service warned Utahns of high wind levels Monday evening, primarily affecting those in Utah Valley.

4 days ago

Temperatures in Salt Lake City are only expected to reach 77 degrees on Monday. However, winds and ...

Adam Small

Temperatures expected to cool down, while winds and wildfire danger rise

Temperatures in Salt Lake City are only expected to reach 77 degrees on Monday. However, winds and wildfire danger are on the rise.

5 days ago

The Foundation’s 38-foot RV, customized with two private exam rooms, will travel around the count...


Free skin cancer screening program visits Park City

Local dermatologists will provide free full-body skin cancer screenings in Park City in an RV meant just to check patients.

6 days ago

two people sit in the summer heat...

Adam Small

Salt Lake registers hottest daily overnight low temperature Friday

Salt Lake City registered its hottest overnight low temperature ever recorded on Friday, June 14.

8 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Underwater shot of the fisherman holding the fish...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Your Bear Lake fishing guide

Bear Lake offers year-round fishing opportunities. By preparing ahead of time, you might go home with a big catch!

A group of people cut a purple ribbon...


Comcast announces major fiber network expansion in Utah

Comcast's commitment to delivering extensive coverage signifies a monumental leap toward a digitally empowered future for Utahns.

a doctor putting her hand on the chest of her patient...

Intermountain Health

Intermountain nurse-midwives launch new gynecology access clinic

An access clinic launched by Intermountain nurse-midwives provides women with comprehensive gynecology care.

Young couple hugging while a realtor in a suit hands them keys in a new home...

Utah Association of Realtors

Buying a home this spring? Avoid these 5 costly pitfalls

By avoiding these pitfalls when buying a home this spring, you can ensure your investment will be long-lasting and secure.

a person dressed up as a nordic viking in a dragon boat resembling the bear lake monster...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Legend of the Bear Lake Monster

The Bear Lake monster has captivated people in the region for centuries, with tales that range from the believable to the bizarre.


Live Nation Concerts

All the artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

Historic floods across country prompt concern for local expert