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Flood Warnings Weren't Heeded, Meteorologist Says

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's bring in another voice here. It's a voice of a meteorologist who says all the signs for this flood were there, but many people weren't listening.

MARSHALL SHEPHERD: I often find human nature is it - well, it's probably not going to be that bad or not going to be anything I haven't seen before. But in this case, it was.

GREENE: Dr. Marshall Shepherd is director of the Atmospheric Sciences Program at the University of Georgia. He says days ahead of time, experts like him were sounding the alarm that South Carolina's flood would be historic and devastating, but Hurricane Joaquin is what captured media attention.

SHEPHERD: Because I think the media likes tornadoes and hurricanes. I think it's real simple. Hurricanes and tornadoes tend to be more telegenic and sexy, if you will, not as interesting perhaps as what many consider a mundane process, which is heavy rainfall.

GREENE: Now despite that, Shepherd says the people who did listen were state officials and emergency responders.

SHEPHERD: The governor of South Carolina did a nice job. People were declaring emergencies. I don't see any particular issues with how people responded to this, other than I think people did not anticipate the sheer magnitude of what is turning out to be an unprecedented event.

GREENE: And we might have to get used to unprecedented events. Shepherd says as the climate continues to change, we are likely to see more extreme weather. And it's important that people take warnings very seriously.

SHEPHERD: One of the things that it really illustrates is that people need to pay consistent attention to flood threats, heavy rain threats. And also people need to not try to drive through flooded roadways. There's a thing that we have - turn around, don't drown. I think people still see a flooded roadway - I can just make it through that. Water running across a roadway is much more powerful than people may anticipate.

GREENE: That is Dr. Marshall Shepherd, a meteorologist at the University of Georgia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.