Peoples' Weather Map


Areal Flooding in Hancock County, 2019

Hancock county, Iowa

On March 19, 2019, The Leader reported that Hancock County was in a state of disaster after continuous rain, especially over a three-day period. The winter’s heavy snows melted with the rain. The result was areal flooding across the landscape.

The National Weather Service explains that while flash flooding occurs usually within six hours of heavy or intense rainfall, areal flooding develops more gradually, as a rule, usually after an extended period of moderate to heavy rainfall. While flash flooding is dangerous because small creek and streams that are barely visible in dry seasons can rise out of their banks and flow in torrents, areal flooding is dangerous too because ponding in low-lying, flood- prone areas and around creeks and streams can cover a wide area. Both are a threat to life and property.

The Leader explains that layers of ice accumulated after the hard winter created “abnormal drainage routes” in the county further worsening the areal flooding. Snow filling roadway ditches in the countryside, for example, forced rainwater to pool on the county’s roadways.

Hancock County was one of 36 counties included in the governor’s disaster proclamation on March 15, 2019. And it was one of 56 counties included in the president’s disaster declaration the following week. These declarations speak to the severity of the flooding. Iowa Individual Assistance Grant Program offered up to $5,000 to reimburse households for the cost of temporary shelter, food, clothing, and home or car repair if those households had collective incomes of up to 200 per cent of the federal poverty level. For example, a household of three people could receive assistance if their income was under $41,560. When the federal government issued its disaster declaration for Hancock County and the other 55 counties in Iowa, the state was estimating state-wide damage at $1.6 billion.

Although these numbers can reveal something about the scale of the 2019 floods in Iowa, including areal flooding in Hancock County, readers have to infer the feelings of loss and the difficult decisions implied by the numbers.

Disaster Declarations throughout Iowa
Image Source: IHSEM

Sources: on-line: Curran McLaughlin, “Hancock County in State of Disaster after Continuous Precipitation,” The Leader, March 19, 2019; National Weather Service; Iowa Emergency Management Association; Anna Spoerre, “President Trump announces major disaster declaration for 56 Iowa counties,” The Des Moines Register, March 23, 2019.