How Communities Can Prepare for the Next Extreme Storm

By Meaghan Gass, Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension

While we all hope extreme storms won’t happen in our community, the reality is that rain events and other extreme storms regularly cause major damage and disrupt lives and livelihoods.

Between 1958 and 2012 in the Midwest, the level of precipitation falling in the most extreme storms increased by 37 percent. Extreme storm events also contribute to issues such as erosion, runoff pollution, infrastructure instability and crop damage. These events have increased in frequency and intensity in the Great Lakes region that includes Canada and the United States.

In June 2017, Michigan’s Saginaw Bay region weathered a storm that caused major flooding to roads, homes, businesses and agriculture, and a state of emergency was declared in Bay, Isabella and Midland counties. Credit: Michigan Sea Grant
In June 2017, Michigan’s Saginaw Bay region weathered a storm that caused major flooding to roads, homes, businesses and agriculture, and a state of emergency was declared in Bay, Isabella and Midland counties. Credit: Michigan Sea Grant

Responding to flooding emergencies requires planning, focus and resources. It is equally important to invest in preparing communities before hazards occur. In the Saginaw Bay area of Michigan, the memories of a 1986 extreme storm that caused widespread flooding, damage and 10 deaths were used to help bring new focus and encourage community resiliency planning and preparation.

Decision makers across the Saginaw Bay watershed’s 22 counties participated in a 2015 survey to explore views of extreme storms and their local impacts, which was funded by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coastal Storms Program. The results helped inform outreach actions to improve community resiliency: a community’s ability to adapt to and recover quickly from extreme storms.

Michigan Sea Grant, Michigan State University Extension and other local partners developed educational materials to support community resiliency and increase understanding of the impacts of extreme storms and flooding. A website was created to share and preserve stories and images of the Great Flood of 1986. The site also includes information on how to prepare for another flooding event.

Fact sheets developed as part of this effort identify tips and online tools that communities can use to assess their risks from extreme storms and determine what steps they might take to reduce stormwater impact. These strategies include using low-impact development and green infrastructure to help manage stormwater, developing disaster preparedness plans and using different modeling tools to better understand a community’s risk for flood exposure. More information is available in the following documents:

In addition, information from three webinars is available. They were held to support decision makers and planners in addressing and developing resiliency related to extreme storms and flooding:

The webinars are available online at the Michigan Sea Grant website. While these resources were developed for the Saginaw Bay region, they are widely applicable to any community at risk of extreme storms and flooding.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

Meaghan Gass serves as a Sea Grant Extension educator with Michigan State University Extension in the Saginaw Bay region based out of Bay City and Standish, Michigan.

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