WSAW - Blogs - Jeremy Tabin

Japan Earthquake & Local Flooding Risk

Another year and another couple massive earthquakes impact parts of the world.  The first in 2010 hit Haiti in January with magnitude of 7.0, followed a month later by a quake in Chile that checked in at 8.8.  On to this year and barely 2 months into 2011 on February 22nd a 6.3 magnitude quake impacted Christchurch, New Zealand.  But the  9.0 magnitude earthquake that slammed NE Japan near Tohoku and Sendai was by far "the big one".  Not only was it the most severe earthquake to ever hit Japan, but also is ranked as the 4th most intense ever recorded globally.  If the quake that caused massive structural damage wasn't enough a short time later a tsunami, with a height of 23 feet, rode inland washing out many towns & villages.  Based on reports, this wave of water reached nearly 3 miles inland and if you saw any video of this wave of water, it far exceeds whatever you would expect to happen during a flash flooding event.  More on the topic of flooding closer to home in a moment.  However, as I talked about in my blogs last year on the Haiti Earthquake and Tsunamis, the effects of both can be felt quite a distance away from the epicenter of the fault line.

Let's start off with the intensity of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake in Japan.  This type of violent shaking is equivalent  to 474 megatons of TNT.  For some perspective, each increase by 1 magnitude on the scale (let's say from a 8.0 to 9.0), the intensity of the shaking is 10 times stronger.  But as mentioned the effects were felt far & wide due to the tsunami that traveled thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean.  Within 8 hours, a muted tsunami rolled into the Hawaiian islands, causing some damage along the coast.  A couple hours later, the same waves hit the west coast of the U.S. mainland, damaging boats in marinas and pulling one individual along the shoreline out to sea. Last but not least, another attribute to this earthquake & tsunami was the explosion of 3 nuclear reactors, and the meltdown of another at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant.  This is an ongoing catastrophic situation and certainly makes the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, PA in 1979 look minor.  On the other hand, at this point it doesn't appear this is going to lead to the nuclear exposure and death that took place in the wake of Chernobyl in 1986.  However, for those residents in the northern half of Japan, this is as dire a situation they have faced since the atomic bomb that was dropped on parts of the country in World War II.

On a much lighter note, the Vernal Equinox takes place this Sunday and not only are we finally going to be rolling into longer daylight hours than nighttime, but also seeing the disappearing of the snow pack from this winter.  As I write this blog, there is still 16" of snow on the ground in Wausau, with many other spots in our area in the range of 8-18".  Mild temperatures and brisk winds certainly play a roll in the melting process and typically this is a slow & steady way of doing it.  However, a bout of moderate to heavy rain, combined with rapid snowmelt can easily lead to river flooding and in some cases localized flooding.  To keep tabs on this, here's a link to the NWS Green Bay Flood Monitor.   Below is an example of what you can look for on the Flood Monitor website.  This is the forecast outlook of the Wisconsin River at Rothschild.

Is there the risk of major flooding locally?  At this point, I would say not major but minor.  The odds favor some flooding for this spring due to a combo of snowmelt & rain in North Central Wisconsin, with a stronger risk in southern & western Wisconsin.  To our west, the Mississippi River will be running at higher levels in the next couple of months, extending from western Wisconsin down the length of the river into central & southern Plains.  To our south, a little over 71" of snow fell in Madison this winter season, while back in the Twin Cities 80.2" accumulated.  Add to that a previously very moist summer of 2010 in both locations and the already saturated ground will be hard pressed to absorb the snow and any forthcoming heavy rain easily.  In some senses, it would be nice to have below average rainfall for March in Wisconsin & Minnesota.  In reality, it will probably be near to somewhat above average in the rain bucket by the end of March.  Enjoy Flood Safety Awareness Week & don't forget about the motto "Turn Around, Don't Drown".  And least I forget, there is a Turn Around, Don't Drown song that you have to hear.

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