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1986 Saginaw Bay Flood Website Looks at Past, Prepares for Future

flooded home in Saginaw Bay area 1986

Extreme floods are a rare occurrence in Michigan, but when they hit, they can cause catastrophic impacts. Preparing for severe weather events is integral for the purposes of safety and avoiding financial devastation.

The 1986flood.com website uses personal accounts and images from those who endured the severe Saginaw Bay area flood in 1986 to educate Michiganders on the consequences that floods can produce. The website is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and was created by the Michigan Sea Grant Extension program and its partners.

Kip Cronk

Kip Cronk, MSU Extension

“One of our hopes is that with these tools and sharing these stories that communities will understand the risk associated with extreme storms, find the tools that are available to them for planning purposes and that they will put it into their planning processes or ordinances,” said Kip Cronk, an extension educator with Michigan Sea Grant College Program.

Michigan Sea Grant applies different techniques to educate and prepare the public for potential flood disasters. It is a joint program between the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and MSU Extension. Other partners participating in the website include the MSU College of Arts and Letters and the Bay County Historical Society.

The Great Flood of 1986 in Michigan stands to be one of the greatest natural disasters in the state’s history, resulting in 10 deaths and damages of more than $505 million – equating to more than $1 billion in damage to today’s standards.

The photos and stories shared from the 1986 flood survivors on the website are a unique way of preserving history and increasing awareness of extreme storm risks.

“These are personal stories – they aren’t coming from the government, they’re not coming from universities. These are people sharing their own stories and how this storm impacted them,” said Cronk. “I think it’s a great way to get people to realize the consequences of the storm.”

The website intends to create stronger “community resiliency” through increasing awareness of the risks of extreme floods to not only citizens, but to stakeholders in the community.

“The stakeholders are elected officials that really can make a change right now in their communities by implementing regulations or planning zoning ordinances,” said Cronk. “The website is aimed at those stakeholders, to educate about the storms and the reality of them.”

Cronk says the biggest misconception about extreme floods that he encounters is the belief that enduring such a weather event “won’t happen” to someone because of the small likelihood. According to Cronk, this leaves a large population vulnerable, ranging from individual landowners to the government.

“Making changes does have an economic cost to communities and homeowners,” said Cronk. “Hopefully, we can work with them to give them tools to make the planning process a little bit easier and to understand positive changes they can make in their communities.”

The flood website is a part of Michigan Sea Grant’s coastal storm project. The project is now entering the education and outreach phase where Cronk will work with partners to promote awareness of extreme storm impacts and preparedness tools. He is planning a series of publications, webinars, and a workshop in the fall for local officials in the Saginaw Bay Watershed.

“The impacts of floods are real in Michigan,” said Cronk. “They do happen and it’s more than likely they’re going to happen again.”

If you experienced the Great 1986 Flood, you can submit stories or photos here.

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