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Powerful storms unleash flooding at Florida’s Walt Disney World

Tuesday, March 8th 2022, 11:44 am - A line of intense thunderstorms led to rare flash flooding at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida, on Monday night.

Heavy rain is as common at Florida’s Walt Disney World as costumes and frozen pineapple whips. But a round of nasty thunderstorms on Monday night got the best of the region’s infrastructure—and the park’s guests.

A strong line of thunderstorms sweeping across central Florida drenched the Walt Disney World resort on Monday night, unleashing flash flooding across at least two of the popular vacation spot’s theme parks.

Multiple videos showed park guests and employees trudging through ankle-deep waters at the entrance to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and along the park’s main thoroughfare. Another video showed guests wading through knee-deep water at neighbouring Epcot.

A rain gauge near Bay Lake, Florida, just a few kilometres from the Disney theme parks, received just over 65 mm of rain from the thunderstorms on Monday night. Doppler radar estimates show that more than 80 mm of rain fell over some parts of central Florida. Most of the rain fell in just an hour or two, which was heavy enough to trigger localized flash flooding.

The U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) office in Melbourne, Florida, issued a flood advisory for the area surrounding the Walt Disney World resort during the thunderstorms on Monday night.

Monday’s flooding rains in central Florida were the result of a classic feature that makes the region a hotbed of drenching thunderstorms during the warmer months.

Walt Disney World is located southwest of Orlando near the middle of the Florida Peninsula. During the peak of daytime heating, sea breezes blowing over the Atlantic coast to the east and the Gulf coast to the west collide in the centre of the state and produce the region’s iconic and near-daily thunderstorms.

Afternoon temperatures around 30°C were warm enough to generate sea breezes that sparked vigorous thunderstorms amid the day’s high humidity.

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Despite the region’s prolific annual rainfall—Orlando averages just over 1,300 mm of rain every year—widespread infrastructure to handle rainwater runoff means that problematic flooding is relatively uncommon around the theme parks, but it does happen on occasion. A storm in February 2017 left widespread standing water across sections of the Magic Kingdom.

While rain is common here all year, it’s been a remarkably dry winter across much of Florida. Last week’s update of the U.S. Drought Monitor found that more than 85 percent of Florida was abnormally dry, and more than a third of the state, including parts of the Orlando area, was mired in a moderate drought.

Even with last night’s storms, Orlando has received about half of its average rainfall so far this year.

Thumbnail courtesy of Raychel Sanner via Unsplash

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