How Floods Work

People walking flooded New Orleans streets after the levees broke from the storm surges caused by Hurricane Katrina. See more storm pictures.
Michael Lewis/National Geographic/Getty Images

Water is one of the most useful things on Earth. We drink it, bathe in it, clean with it and use it to cook food. Most of the time, it is completely benign. But in large enough quantities, the very same stuff we use to rinse a toothbrush can overturn cars, demolish houses and even kill.

Flooding has claimed millions of lives in the last hundred years alone, more than any other weather phenomenon. Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the 2008 cyclone that struck Myanmar are recent examples of the widespread devastation that flooding can incur.

In this article, we'll find out what makes water change character so rapidly and see what happens when it does. We'll explore the negative impact of floods as well as some of the benefits. We'll also examine how human construction can contain flooding or, in some cases, cause it.