Flood Hazards and Perceptions – A Comparative Study of Two Cities in Alabama


Wanyun Shao  Barry D. Keim, Siyuan Xian, Ryan O'Connor




Shao, W., B. D. Keim, S. Xian, and R. O’Connor. 2018. Flood hazards and perceptions – a comparative study of two cities in Alabama. Journal of Hydrology https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022169418309557?via%3Dihub. 

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How does physical history of flood-related hazards affect individuals’ perceptions? The present study represents a unique effort to understand perceptions of flood hazards in light of the geographic background. Situated in Alabama, the United States, the cities of Mobile and Huntsville display two different physical geographic contexts. Despite one being a coastal city (Mobile) and the other being an inland city, both are similarly vulnerable to flooding. We first present results of historical analyses of heavy precipitation in both cities and analysis of storm surge history in the city of Mobile. We then report results of both descriptive statistical and inferential statistical analyses based on a two-city residents’ survey that was conducted in the spring of 2016. We find that residents in both cities are able to connect the particular natural hazard of flooding with their physical environments. Residents in both cities are influenced by their perceptions of precipitation when making assessments of flooding. Despite the fact that Huntsville has not experienced heavy precipitation events as much as Mobile in recent history, residents of Huntsville tend to link heavy rainfall – the most frequent cause of flooding in that city, with flooding. In contrast, residents of Mobile tend to link hurricanes, more particularly hurricane number, with flooding. These results show that people are attuned to their physical environments and take into consideration their personal observations when forming perceptions of natural hazards. More studies need to be conducted to further investigate the dynamics of physical exposure to hazards and risk perceptions in other geographic areas.