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Louisiana flooding: What is a 500-year flood and why is it happening so much?

Published: Wednesday, August 17, 2016 @ 8:23 AM
Updated: Wednesday, August 17, 2016 @ 8:27 AM

As  of Wednesday morning, 11 people have died and more than 40,000 homes have been damaged in ongoing flooding  in southeastern Louisiana.

Up to two-and-a-half feet of rain that swelled rivers and swamped the area in and around Baton Rouge, La., has led the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to classify the flooding as a once-in-every-500-years event.

Obviously, by definition, the events are rare – except this is the eighth time one of the 500-year events has happened in the United States in a little more than 12 months.

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Six states – Louisiana, Texas, West Virginia, South Carolina, Maryland and Oklahoma --  have all had unprecedented rainfall events that, according to NOAA research, they should have only had a less than one percent chance of experiencing in any given year. 

So what is a 500-year flood and why are they happening more frequently? Here’s a quick look at what the historic rainfall means.

What is a 500-year flood?

The U.S. government, when creating the National Flood Insurance Program, used a measure called the 1-percent annual exceedance probability flood (AEP) to estimate the chance of repeat flooding of a certain level  in a certain area. The AEP defines a flood that, statistically, has a 1-in-100 chance of  being equaled or surpassed in any one year, thus the term “100-year flood” was born. The 500-year flood” is equal to an AEP of 0.2 percent, or a 1-in-500 chance an area will see a repeat of flooding at a certain level. 

In some areas of Louisiana, the flooding is being classified as a 1000-year-event – or an 0.1 percent chance of seeing flooding like that in any given year.

How are flood risks determined?

Scientists and engineers take annual measurements of the strength of the flow of a body of water and the peak height of the water as recorded by devices called streamgages. These devices are placed in spots along a river. They use those numbers, collected over time, to determine the probability (or chance) that a river will exceed those measurements during any given year.

Does a 500-year flood really mean that a flood of that type happens only once every 500 years?

No, not exactly. We are talking math. The term means  that, statistically, there is a 1-in-500 chance that an area will have a large flood in any given year. You could have a large flood two years in a row, but, chances are, you won’t. 

Why are we seeing eight such floods in the U.S. in a little over a year then? Does climate change have anything to do with it?

Climate scientists sure think it does. Many say they believe that global warming has everything to do with it and say we can look forward to more of these events. They have warned that warming temperatures on both land and sea, and the build-up of moisture in the atmosphere, will inevitably cause more large flooding events.

“We have been on an upward trend in terms of heavy rainfall events over the past two decades, which is likely related to the amount of water vapor going up in the atmosphere,” said Dr Kenneth Kunkel, of the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites, told The Guardian.

“There’s a very tight loop – as surface temperatures of the oceans warm up, the immediate response is more water vapor in the atmosphere. We’re in a system inherently capable of producing more floods.”

David Easterling told The New York Times that the flooding “is consistent with what we expect to see in the future if you look at climate models. Not just in the U.S. but in many other parts of the world as well.” Easterling is a director at the National Centers for Environmental Information, which is operated by the NOAA.

Sources: NOAA; The New York Times; The Guardian; The Associated Press; The National Weather Service

Family given house after losing their home in fire

Published: Sunday, December 17, 2017 @ 3:27 AM

File photo.  (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
Scott Barbour/Getty Images
File photo. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)(Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

A family whose house burned, during which the father also suffered burns while saving his son and sister from the flames, were gifted a new house Saturday.

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Ronald Warren Williamson III suffered third-degree burns in the November fire, according to WTVG

The family received enough votes through a real estate company contest which gave a house to the winner.

"We're just very fortunate for everybody in the community for the way they've all come together," mother Stacey Kennedy told WTVG. "It's just amazing."

WWE's Vince McMahon to give football another shot, may bring back XFL

Published: Sunday, December 17, 2017 @ 1:26 AM

12 Jul 2000: Vince McMahon talks during the XFL Press Conference at the House of Blues in Los Angeles, California. (Photo: Tom Hauck  / Allsport via Getty Images)
Tom Hauck/Getty Images
12 Jul 2000: Vince McMahon talks during the XFL Press Conference at the House of Blues in Los Angeles, California. (Photo: Tom Hauck / Allsport via Getty Images)(Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

Vince McMahon, owner and creative head of World Wrestling Entertainment, is preparing a new professional football league.

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McMahon started the XFL in 2001, splitting ownership with NBC. The league debuted to massive ratings and hype, with commercials promising a harder hitting brand of football and sexier cheerleaders. But the quality of play suffered greatly from the lack of preparation time for players, as well as the lack of big-name players from the NFL or college, and led to the league lasting only one season.

The story was first told by writer Brad Shepard on Twitter. Wrestling writer David Bixenspan later contacted WWE, which confirmed McMahon has established a new corporation called Alpha Entertainment. 

Bixenspan also reported McMahon had reacquired trademarks for the XFL shortly after ESPN aired a documentary on the league earlier in 2017. Whether McMahon’s league would be called the XFL is unknown.

The Washington Post wrote McMahon’s interest in a return to football was fueled by his participation in the ESPN documentary. Despite the league costing NBC and WWE $35 million in 2001, McMahon tried to find another channel for the league after NBC canceled it and only shut the league down after he was unable to find a television deal.

The XFL branded itself as a harder hitting and sexier version of pro football, and the NFL had become less physical. The marketing campaign behind the league’s debut was one of the most hyped in history and included professional wrestlers from the WWE. 

The timing of McMahon opening a new league could be due to the NFL’s ratings struggles and complaints about the league’s style of play after new rules have restricted how players tackle. National Anthem protests by players in the NFL have been controversial. Media outlets have differed on whether the protests have affected ratings. 

Players and owners were also targeted by President Donald Trump while he was campaigning during the Alabama Senate race. Vince McMahon’s wife Linda, a former WWE president, is a member of President Trump’s cabinet and head of the Small Business Administration. 

Bazooka turned in during San Francisco gun buyback 

Published: Sunday, December 17, 2017 @ 12:54 AM

A bazooka was one of the weapons turned in during a gun buyback event Saturday in San Francisco. (Photo: San Francisco Police Department)
A bazooka was one of the weapons turned in during a gun buyback event Saturday in San Francisco. (Photo: San Francisco Police Department)

Police took 271 guns off the street during a gun buyback event Saturday that netted an arsenal including a bazooka, cannon ball and assault rifles.

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“We got everything that you can name that could destroy a whole universe, and we get rid of them within hours," said Rudy Corpuz Jr. with United Playaz, a community group that helped organize the buyback with police.

There were no questions asked. People were given $100 for a handgun and $200 for assault weapons, according to the San Francisco Chronicle

The weapons will be destroyed.

Cruise ship with more than 300 sick passengers returns to Florida port

Published: Saturday, December 16, 2017 @ 11:38 PM

File photo.  (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Andrew Burton/Getty Images
File photo. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)(Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

A Royal Caribbean cruise ship returned to Port Everglades today after more than 300 people became ill with a stomach virus.

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Cruise officials said there were 332 cases of the gastrointestinal illness, just under 6 percent of the more than 5,000 guests and crew aboard the Independence of the Seas, according to a CNN report.

The cruise left South Florida on Monday, and the illness began to spread by Wednesday, WSVN in Miami reported. Passengers were given over-the-counter medication, and staff quickly cleaned and disinfected the entire ship, a Royal Caribbean spokesperson said.

But passengers reported a not-so-memorable cruise.

"Imagine being in a waiting room and sitting next to five or six people all throwing up at the same time," passenger Cheryl Roberts told WSVN.

Roberts said all of the sick passengers she spoke to had lunch on the ship.

"We all didn’t eat off of the ship, and now we’re all either throwing up or we have horrible diarrhea," she said.

A Royal Caribbean statement said the cruise line is "taking steps like intensive sanitary procedures to minimize the risk of any further issues."