New UCS Analysis Identifies Locations Where Spring Flooding, Coronavirus Emergencies May Converge

Author  Ashley Siefert Nunes

Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its seasonal forecast for the spring flooding season showing that nearly half of U.S. states could be at risk. The agency warns that “128 million people face an elevated flooding risk in their communities.” Many of these areas experienced record-breaking flooding last year and are still recovering, including locations in the Midwest and Northern Great Plains, which suffered $10.8 billion in damage to homes, businesses, crops and infrastructure. For people and communities already constrained and fearful, NOAA’s flooding forecast presents a new challenge: responding to disruptive, destructive and potentially life-threatening flooding in the midst of a growing pandemic. And with only 35 percent of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) employees available to deploy, these communities also may not have the back-up they need when it matters most. 

Using data from Columbia University researchers and NOAA’s seasonal flood outlook, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released an analysis today that forecasts where flooding and coronavirus infections are poised to hit the United States the hardest between now and the end of May. The analysis could help federal, state and local governments, as well as households, prepare for what may be coming.

According to the analysis, the counties that could be hit by both high infection rates and significant flooding tend to be rural areas where health care access may be more limited. Counties in eastern South Dakota and eastern Iowa are at risk of major flooding and coronavirus infection rates that may exceed 25 percent of their population, while portions of Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia face similar infection rates coupled with moderate flooding risk. 

The analysis also identified the counties that could likely have the largest number of coronavirus cases and are facing moderate or major flooding risk. They are largely located in the South and Midwest and include the counties containing Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Cedar Rapids, Kansas City, Little Rock and Sioux Falls. For example, Atlanta and the surrounding metro area—which spans DeKalb and Fulton counties—could see more than 8,400 people infected at a time when their flood risk is significant. The list illustrates the magnitude of the threat from what may be simultaneous public health emergencies.

Members of the analytical team available for interviews include:

  • Kristy Dahl, senior climate scientist at UCS. She is based in Oakland, California. Click here to view her bio.
  • Juan Declet-Barreto, climate vulnerability social scientist at UCS. He is based in Washington D.C. Declet-Barreto can do interviews in both English and Spanish. Click here to view his bio.
  • Erika Spanger-Siegfried, senior climate analyst at UCS. She is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Click here to view her bio. 

If you would like to talk to one these experts, please contact Ashley Siefert Nunes, communications officer at UCS, by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at 952-239-0199.

For more information about how UCS is working to ensure governments implement a science-based response to fighting the coronavirus pandemic, click here.