Media advisory: Flooding expert warns of inland hazards days after hurricane's landfall

Aug. 30, 2005, 11:02 a.m.

While much of the attention surrounding hurricane Katrina has focused on the danger of storm surges in coastal areas, the majority of deaths from hurricanes in recent decades has occurred hundreds of miles inland, according to Princeton Professor James Smith, who studies extreme flooding.

Hurricanes that hit the southern United States tend to travel deep into the country dropping heaving rain until they run into the Appalachian Mountains, where the rainfall can suddenly increase more than 10-fold, causing severe floods

"If you take your eye off the ball after the hurricane hits land and all the serious events associated with that, you can be in big trouble," said Smith.

In the case of hurricane Camille in 1969 -- to which Katrina has been compared because of its path and the coastal flooding it caused -- more than 120 deaths occurred in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Smith said.

Smith, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, studies the conditions that lead to extreme flooding and conducts field work to measure the behavior of waterways during severe weather events. Part of his research attempts to answer questions about how geographical terrain affects the intensity of rainfall and how urban environments affect the behavior of rainwater. He and his students are preparing for possible field studies to observe the effects of hurricane Katrina

He can be reached at (609) 258-4615 or You may also contact Steven Schultz, director of engineering communications, at (609) 258-3617 or