I’m writing in response to Paul Kelman’s letter [“Understanding a 100-year Flood,” June 22, Xpress] commenting on the interview in which I discussed my film [“Remembering the Great Flood of 1916: A Q&A with Filmmaker David Weintraub,” June 15, Xpress].
Kelman expressed concern that I didn’t understand what a 100-year flood was, but I can assure him that I do. While, in theory, a 100-year flood is the one percent chance of a flood of a certain magnitude occurring, the facts tell a far different story. In the past 120 years, 100-year floods have occurred in Western North Carolina in 1896, 1916, 1928, 1940, 1977, 1996 and 2004, which is a rate five times greater than a one percent chance.
According to a recent study published by state geologist Rick Wooten and other researchers, storms in the Southern Appalachians capable of causing thousands of landslides have occurred here every 25 years. Additionally, if you add in major and catastrophic storms in this region, which have resulted in hundreds of landslides over the period between 1916-2013, the report states that their average frequency is once every seven years [Frequency and Magnitude of Selected Historical Landslide Events in the Southern Appalachian Highlands of North Carolina and Virginia (Wooten, et al, 2015)].
I may not be a math major but, given this history, I think it’s clear that the percentage chance of storms capable of causing massive numbers of landslides in WNC is probably closer to 10 percent. If that is the case, wouldn’t we want building codes in this region to be more reflective of the real peril that these storms cause?
And it’s not the flood plain I’m concerned about as much as the construction on steep slopes where most of the damage here is caused. Much of that danger is not limited to the McMansion crowd whose homes have beautiful views on the sides of mountains, but also to the folks living at the bottom of the mountains, where the debris flows will hit hardest.
— David Weintraub
Center for Cultural Preservation