Updated Apr 14, 2023 - Science

Ft. Lauderdale airport reopens as South Florida begins to recover from flooding

Planes sit at their gates after the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport was closed due to the runways being flooded on April 13. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport reopened Friday morning with extensive delays due to only one runway being available, days after heavy rain slammed South Florida and caused widespread flooding.

The big picture: Broward County Public Schools said the sixth-largest district in the U.S. would be closed Thursday and Friday as cars, buildings and roads were inundated with floodwaters after over two feet of rainfall fell in some areas over Wednesday night.

  • The National Weather Service warned Wednesday evening in a rare "flash flood emergency" that was later lifted for areas near Hollywood, Dania Beach and Fort Lauderdale: "This is a life-threatening situation."
  • Brightline announced Wednesday evening it had suspended its train service between Miami and Fort Lauderdale and authorities urged people to stay off the roads. Operations resumed early Thursday.

By the numbers: The NWS office in Miami tweeted Thursday that preliminary data showed a potentially historic 25.91 inches of rain fell in 24 hours in Fort Lauderdale.

  • This likely qualifies as a 1-in-1,000-year rainfall event for that location, and amounts to about one-third of the city's annual precipitation total falling in one day.
  • To put this another way, a 1,000-year event means there is a 0.1% chance of it occurring in any individual year.
  • Dania Beach was slammed with 17.30 inches of rain in 24 hours and Hollywood received 18.16 inches, according to the NWS preliminary data.
  • Hollywood Mayor Josh Levy told CNN Wednesday the city had "recorded over 12 inches of rain since midnight, and that’s on top of consecutive days of seemingly nonstop rain."
  • According to the NWS, the 24-hour preliminary rainfall total at Fort Lauderdale was 25.6 inches, which agency meteorologist Victor Murphy noted would be an all-time state record for the most 24-hour rainfall.
Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Miami

Thought bubble: Such an extreme rainfall event over a localized, highly populated area is a recipe for major economic losses and potentially some loss of life.

Between the lines: The flooding resulted from a stationary severe thunderstorm that continuously regenerated over the same area for hours, reducing visibilities to one-quarter-mile at times in heavy rain.

  • The rain that resulted exceeded the heavy precipitation the state normally sees during hurricanes.
  • Meteorologist Alex Lamers, tweeted that the effects were "Like putting a faucet right over Fort Lauderdale, turning it on, and walking away."
  • Larger-scale factors contributed to this event during Florida's dry season, including a broad area of low pressure over the Gulf and a stalled-out frontal system.

Context: Studies have shown that extreme precipitation events are becoming more common and more severe throughout the U.S. and around the world.

  • For every 1°C (1.8°F) increase in temperatures, the atmosphere can hold 7% more moisture, which helps fuel storms, as do warming ocean temperatures.
  • Planners that designed infrastructure to withstand a 100-year flood 20 years ago are now facing the reality that such floods are occurring more frequently as the climate warms and the amount of moisture available to storms increases.

The intrigue: Fort Lauderdale joins the growing list of places hit with damaging deluges throughout the past two years. This includes St. Louis, Missouri, Dallas, Texas, and Hazard, Kentucky.

Of note: A flash flood warning was in effect for Fort Lauderdale, Pembroke Pines and Hollywood through 9:30pm Thursday due to more heavy rain.

In this aerial view, cars navigate through flooded streets after record rains fell in the area on April 13 in Hollywood, Florida. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
People walk through a flooded neighborhood on April 13 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Lindsey Elf uses a paddle board to ride through a flooded street on April 13 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
People climb into the back of a truck as they evacuate from a flooded neighborhood on April 13 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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Editor's note: This article has been updated with additional details throughout.

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