A flood occurs when water overflows or inundates land that's normally dry. This can happen in a multitude of ways. Most common is when rivers or streams overflow their banks. Excessive rain, a ruptured dam or levee, rapid ice melting in the mountains, or even an unfortunately placed beaver dam can overwhelm a river and send it spreading over the adjacent land, called a floodplain. Coastal flooding occurs when a large storm or tsunami causes the sea to surge inland.
Most floods take hours or even days to develop, giving residents ample time to prepare or evacuate. Others generate quickly and with little warning. These flash floods can be extremely dangerous, instantly turning a babbling brook into a thundering wall of water and sweeping everything in its path downstream.
Disaster experts classify floods according to their likelihood of occurring in a given time period. A hundred-year flood, for example, is an extremely large, destructive event that would theoretically be expected to happen only once every century. But this is a theoretical number. In reality, this classification means there is a one-percent chance that such a flood could happen in any given year. Over recent decades, possibly due to global climate change, hundred-year floods have been occurring worldwide with frightening regularity.
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