The Fort Lauderdale airport has finally reopened after almost 30 inches of rainfall resulted in a sweeping flood of the coastal city. Wednesday was recorded as the rainiest day in the city’s history, as emergency rescues and evacuations were underway. About 600 residents were in emergency shelter locations Thursday night, and several schools and other businesses remain closed. According to forecasters, the city’s rainfall is akin to high-end hurricanes.
By Aya Elamroussi, Leyla Santiago & Denise Royal; April 14, 2023
Fort Lauderdale, FloridaCNN —
The Fort Lauderdale airport reopened Friday morning after monumental flooding wreaked havoc on the South Florida city and surrounding communities, closing schools and government buildings.
Many streets turned into lakes across Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday and Thursday when a historic volume of rain exceeding 2 feet inundated the coastal city. The flooding shut down the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport for about 40 hours.
The airport reopened Friday at 9 a.m., according to officials.
Several travelers were in the line to get through security as operations slowly resumed and airline staff were checking in passengers.
Departures “are delayed avg. 186 mins. due to runway obstruction,” the Federal Aviation Administration said.
“Travelers are advised to check with their airlines for updated flight times BEFORE coming to the airport,” the airport said.
“We’re planning to start our operation back up shortly out of FLL,” American Airlines tweeted Friday morning.
Surrounding areas were also lashed with well above a foot of rain, leading to rapid flooding that trapped residents, made driving miserable for motorists and frustrated air travelers who could not leave the airport.
Jeremy Ennis, who said he has been working in Fort Lauderdale for about 23 years, was stuck on a city road in his car Thursday as water levels remained high.
“Never have I seen anything like this, ever,” Ennis told CNN. “I’ve never seen this volume of water, and I’ve seen (Hurricane) Katrina. I’ve seen many more hurricanes.”
A few scattered thunderstorms are expected Friday and could bring localized flooding. The threat is not expected to be widespread. For the weekend, Saturday looks dry and a few scattered storms are possible Sunday.
Fort Lauderdale was hit with another round of rain Thursday evening which exacerbated flooding conditions, city officials said.
“Roads that were passable earlier today are flooded again. We strongly urge everyone to stay off the roads, if possible,” Fort Lauderdale city officials said.
“We had a headcount of 32 people in shelters on Thursday night,” said Amelia Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management. Roughly 600 others came through a family reunification center to receive food and water, Johnson said.
The flooding impacts have also prompted Broward County Public Schools Friday to cancel classes for the second consecutive day.
In addition to responding to hundreds of rescue calls Thursday, crews throughout the Fort Lauderdale metro area have been working to clear drains and deploy pumps where possible to help alleviate the effects of flooding.
Hollywood, Florida, Mayor Josh Levy said his city saw more than a foot of rain accumulate in areas that have been experiencing consecutive days of “seemingly nonstop rain.”
“The ground was already saturated so there is extensive flooding all over our city and throughout South Florida. Many roadways are impassable. Lots of vehicles got stuck and left abandoned in the middle of our roadways.
“I’ve lived here my whole life. This is the most severe flooding that I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued a state of emergency for Broward County to provide additional resources to crews and residents on the ground.
Fort Lauderdale, home to nearly 200,000 residents, saw 25.91 inches of precipitation in a 24-hour period spanning Wednesday and Thursday, according to preliminary reports from the National Weather Service office in Miami.
The deepest standing water surveyed Thursday was in the Edgewood neighborhood just north of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where a still water mark of just over 3 feet was measured near Floyd Hull Stadium, according to the weather service in Miami.
Other surrounding areas, including Hollywood, Dania Beach and Lauderdale Lakes, collected between 12 and 18 inches of rain in the same 24-hour period, the preliminary reports show.
“This amount of rain in a 24-hour period is incredibly rare for South Florida,” said meteorologist Ana Torres-Vazquez at the weather service’s Miami forecast office.
A high-end hurricane would typically dump rainfall of 20 to 25 inches over more than a day, Torres-Vazquez said, describing the rainfall as a “1-in-1,000 year event, or greater,” meaning it’s an event so intense the chance of it happening in any given year is just 0.1%.
During the peak of Wednesday’s torrential barrages, a month’s worth of rain fell in just one hour. Fort Lauderdale’s average rainfall for April is 3 inches, and it’s been nearly 25 years since the city totaled 20 inches of rain in an entire month.
That’s why it will take time for the water to drain completely, officials said.
“Because of the extreme amount of water, most areas will need to drain naturally,” Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said. “Crews are out in neighborhoods clearing storm drains to aid water receding from neighborhoods. Vacuum trucks are being deployed strategically throughout the city.
“There is not one area of this city that has not been impacted.”
Music festival to proceed Friday
A three-day music festival in Fort Lauderdale is slated to kick off Friday as planned, organizers said, as attendees look to find alternate routes to navigate flooded streets.
The Tortuga Music Festival will open its gates at noon Friday, a festival spokesperson told CNN. The country music festival, which aims to raise funds for marine conservation efforts, will return for its tenth year.
“We look forward to a great weekend, for a great cause, and the best fans in the world to enjoy the tenth anniversary of Tortuga,” the festival spokesperson said.
Mandi-Lynn Guertin, who flew into Fort Lauderdale from Connecticut for the festival, said she had not experienced this much flooding before.
Guertin was in a rented car with her friends when the vehicle got stuck in about 3 feet of water, shut off and water quickly filled the inside. The group had to leave it on the side of the road.
“We currently can’t leave our Airbnb because the floodwaters are too high and no Ubers will come out to get us,” Guertin told CNN.
Climate change is making extreme flooding events more common
Extreme rainfall rates are a signature consequence of a warming climate, and they are happening more frequently as a result.
This is just the latest instance of record rainfall striking US cities, after several 1-in-1,000 year rains struck last year, including in Dallas, eastern Kentucky, St. Louis and Yellowstone National Park.
The reason climate change causes more extreme flooding is because warmer air can hold more water vapor, making storms capable of dropping much more rainfall.
According to the latest US National Climate Assessment, “Climate change has already shifted precipitation patterns across the country … including an elevated likelihood of extreme rainfall events.”
Increases in “very heavy precipitation events” – the heaviest 1% of all daily rainfall events – have been observed in every region of the US, according to the National Climate Assessment.
In the Southeast, records show very heavy rainfalls have increased by 27% over the past 50 years.