Recurrence Interval of Hurricane Level Flooding in the Florida Panhandle

Recurrence Interval of Hurricane Level Flooding in the Florida Panhandle



Ripken James Pacovsky



Hurricane Sally’s landfall in the Gulf Coast marked the fourth consecutive year of a slow-moving tropical system devastating the region with insurmountable rainfall, flooding and storm surge. With an estimated cost of over $7 billion in total damage and being the direct cause of 8 fatalities, Hurricane Sally broke storm records along the southern coasts of Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida panhandle. Using daily water discharge data from the USGS 02375500 station in the Escambia River near Century, FL, the river recorded nine consecutive days above its flood stage. The majority of the inundation and flood damage occurred between the 16th and 20th of September 2020 as the hurricane passed over Escambia County, FL. Peak discharge (in cubic feet per second) of the river occurred on the 17th and slowly declined after. Using historical data from the United States Geological Survey and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it is possible to estimate how often comparable levels of flooding will occur in the area. Knowing the recurrence of severe flooding is beneficial for homeowners, businesses and municipalities to make preparations and be insured. Compiling all daily discharge and gage height measurements of the Escambia River from 1934-2021, the recurrence interval of Hurricane Sally-level flooding was found to be ~6.8 years. In a given year, the probability of Hurricane Sally level flooding is about 15 in 100. Flood levels just below Hurricane Sally were found to have a much greater probability. With a predicted rise in sea level, this recurrence interval can be expected to shorten in the future. The outdated flood control systems from the 1900s will need to be updated this century to keep on pace with frequent and more extreme flood events.

Publication Date


Project Designation

Capstone Project

Primary Advisor

Zelalem K. Bedaso, Chia-Yu Wu

Primary Advisor's Department



Stander Symposium project, College of Arts and Sciences

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Climate Action

Recurrence Interval of Hurricane Level Flooding in the Florida Panhandle