At last night's opening of the 2011 Power Shift conference in Washington, an annual gathering of student environmental activists sponsored by the Sierra Club, former Vice President Al Gore ginned up the crowd of college students by noting how many more floods there were around the world in the last year. This, Gore said, was a clear example of how global warming and climate change is affecting our world. He brought up the Nashville floods as one such instance:
“I want to tell you about my hometown of Nashville. In the beginning of May, thousands of my neighbors lost their homes and businesses, and they didn’t have flood insurance because the areas where they lived and worked had never, ever been flooded before. They called it a once in a thousand year rainfall.”
I was living in Nashville at the time of the floods, and I can attest to the fact that nearly everyone in the area was caught off guard. Parts of downtown were completely flooded and destroyed. The Cumberland River crested at over 51 feet, which was certainly a remarkable level. But Gore is stretching the truth to say that the areas had "never, ever been flooded before." In fact, the U.S. Geological Survey reported at the time that the river had not crested that high since...1937. The 2010 flood was also "only" the 10th highest recorded flood level in Nashville in the last 200 years. The Army Corps of Engineers, for instance, recorded the Cumberland River crested at 56.2 feet in Nashville on January 1, 1927.
This doesn't downplay the fact that last year's flooding was immensely devastating, nor does it imply that Nashvillians should have known better. But it does seem to discount Gore's use of the disaster as an example of recent freak natural disasters caused by recent global warming.