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National Building Museum event will discuss how D.C. could fare in a 500-year storm

The free event on October 18 will feature four speakers who will discuss how the District prepares for heavy floods

A photo showing the last major flood in Washington, D.C., in March 1936.
Photo via Library of Congress/Harris & Ewing

In the wake of the natural disasters that recently hit Houston and Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C.’s National Building Museum is readying an event that is expected to consider how the nation’s capital would fare if a 500-year storm hit the District. The free event will be hosted on October 18 at 6:30 p.m.

There will be four speakers, including D.C. Chief Resilience Officer Kevin J. Bush, Virginia Tech Professor and Director of the Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center Susan Piedmont-Palladino, Director of the Department of Environmental Programs at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Stephen Walz, and Jeffrey Gowen, the branch chief of facility operations at the National Mall and Memorial Parks of the National Park Service.

When it comes to what a 500-year storm is exactly, Walz said, “Storms are rated by the chance that they would hit an area in a year, so a 500-year storm is one that has a one in 500 chance of hitting … It’s a storm that has a lot of rainwater with it at any one time.”

The last time D.C. experienced a great flood was in March 1936 with much of Potomac Park underwater and some cherry blossoms by the Tidal Basin damaged beyond repair. The National Weather Service reported that an event of that magnitude is so rare that it has less than a 1 percent chance of happening again. As a result of the flood, Congress passed the Flood Control Act of 1936, which allowed for permanent levees by the National Mall.

Along with these levees, Walz said that there are also gates on 17th Street NW that help control floods and levees in other sections of the region, including some by the Anacostia River and Virginia’s Four Mile Run. He expects additional flood-control devices to be installed in D.C. in the future.

At the National Building Museum event, expect information like this and much more, especially when considering how the National Mall and its adjacent buildings are protected and how flood-control practices may differ in D.C. when compared to other cities.

Is D.C. ready for a 500-year storm event? [National Building Museum]

National Building Museum

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