Rains are Chance to Practice Lessons of 2010 Flood

By TRAVIS LOLLER | August 12, 2013

Unusually heavy summer rainfalls in Tennessee have given the agencies involved in flood control and emergency management a chance to show that they have learned to cooperate after the disastrous missteps of 2010.

A mountain of home debris is formed as a result of homeowners gutting thier homes in the River Plantation section of Bellevue. 6-8 feet of floodwater left hundreds of homes damaged requiring residents to throw everything out in order to begin the recovery process. Photo: FEMA/Marty Bahamonde

A mountain of home debris is formed as a result of homeowners gutting thier homes in the River Plantation section of Bellevue. 6-8 feet of floodwater left hundreds of homes damaged requiring residents to throw everything out in order to begin the recovery process. Photo: FEMA/Marty Bahamonde

That’s the year heavy flooding of the Cumberland River and its tributaries killed 26 people in the state and caused more than $2 billion in damage in Nashville.

Back then, poor communication between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Weather Service caused officials to fail to predict major flooding in Nashville until after it had already happened. That’s because the weather service didn’t know how much water the corps was releasing from its dams.

Many flood victims complained they were not warned to evacuate until it was so late that they had to wade through dangerous flood waters to reach rescuers.

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper said at the time, “A few hours of warning could have saved lives and prevented millions of dollars in damage.”

In addition to the miscommunication, the corps was unable to access water level data collected by the U.S. Geological Survey because it had left a cooperative program with the agency.

Although flash flooding in Nashville on Thursday was nowhere near the scale of 2010, officials with the city, the weather service and the corps said they were in constant communication this time around.

Larry Vannozzi is the meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service’s Nashville office. He said in an email response to questions that on Thursday officials from his office, the weather service’s Ohio River Forecast Center and the Corps of Engineers coordinated using a live chat room.

“Every gate release change that the corps performed at Old Hickory Dam was conveyed via the chat system,” he said.

In addition, there are now a series of new water level gauges along the Cumberland River, thanks to the city, the corps and the U.S. Geological Survey. The gauges give the weather service a better idea of how quickly the river is rising, Vannozzi said.

Asked at a news conference on Thursday about differences between 2010 and now, Mayor Karl Dean pointed out that a meteorologist from the weather service was in the same room as the city’s emergency management officials. He also said the city had been communicating with the corps.

“Since 2010, there’s been very good communication among all parties,” Dean said.

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