Tip Sheets

Ida highlights urban flash flood risks, disparities

Media Contact

Jeff Tyson

Hurricane Ida left devastating flooding across the Northeast as it finished its trek across the United States.

Brian Rahm

Director of the New York State Water Resources Institute

Brian Rahm, director of the New York State Water Resources Institute and senior research associate with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University, says Ida underscores just how significant flash flooding can be in urban environments, when people can’t find higher ground.

Rahm says:

“The suggestion that people ‘find higher ground’ assumes that higher ground is to be found. In an urban area like New York City — largely flat, with very limited mobility in storm situations — there are constraints on what individuals can do. In some places accustomed to flash flooding and where migration is impossible, there is some movement toward making the first floor of structures ‘floodable’ or at least not life-threatening. But how do you do this in New York City?

“This is also another example of the disparity between affluent and poorer neighborhoods and their relative abilities to adapt, both during the event itself and longer term.” 

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