The afternoon sky was a little gray on Sunday, April 17, but when the clouds finally broke, they dumped at least 2 inches of rain on DeLand in just as many hours.
One of the victims of the flash flood was Hyder Head Brewery at the intersection of West Georgia and South Florida avenues in Downtown DeLand. Three other businesses that share the 6,000-square-foot commercial building owned by Carelli Holdings LLC were also flooded.
It’s not the first time. Brewery owner Jeff Hyder said this was the third flood since he opened the brewery in September 2020.
This flood was worse than the others, Hyder said. When he rented the spot, Hyder said, he was unaware of the flooding possibility, but since he works with beer, waterproofing was part of his buildout, and most of his walls are protected near the floor. The only wall that isn’t is the one Hyder shares with Kandel Architecture and Design next door. He expects some damage to that wall, but otherwise his brewery made it through the storm unscathed.
There is a long history of flooding in this area of Downtown DeLand, that goes back at least to the 1950s. It’s a problem the City of DeLand is aware of — once, the mayor’s car parked outside City Hall was inundated — and the city has tried various improvements.
In 2018, for example, the city spent $20,000 on the Carelli property to create a berm and drain and to help elevate Hyder Head Brewery, the city manager said.
“Over the years, the City has invested a considerable sum of money both with the construction of the new City Hall and other projects to improve the flooding situation at the intersection,” City Manager Michael Pleus told The Beacon. “At City Hall [which opened in 2007], we oversized all of the stormwater facilities and then created a popoff to our stormwater pond to alleviate the high volume of water coming off of State Road 44. Unfortunately, the volume of water coming off of S.R. 44 can and does surge in heavy rain events.”
A storm surge is when heavy winds push water above heights typically impacted by storms. It’s especially common when stagnant storms dump gallons of water on one concentrated area in a short period of time. That’s what happened April 17, and stormwater systems are not built to handle such intense rains, especially since these kinds of storms aren’t exactly the norm — or, at least, they haven’t been.
Ask anyone who has lived in DeLand or West Volusia their whole life, and they’ll tell you storms aren’t the same as they used to be. Pleus said he’s noticed it, too.
“The rain has definitely gotten more intense, particularly in the last five years. Having lived my whole life in Florida we used to have a brief afternoon thunderstorm and then it would clear out,” he said. “Storms are stronger and last for hours now.”
You aren’t imagining it, either.
“There’s a lot of discussion going on right now amongst climate people trying to understand if the intense rainfall events in Florida and elsewhere are, in fact, getting worse,” Dr. Jason Evans said. “There’s a lot that goes into trying to understand that and trying to empirically demonstrate that.”
Evans is an associate professor of environmental science and studies at Stetson University. He earned his Ph.D. studying environmental engineering sciences.
There’s no definitive answer as to why Florida’s rainstorms seem to be getting worse, he said, but the data is consistent with what climate scientists associate with climate change. But, as with all things, Florida is complicated.
“We think the sea is going to rise, and we have incontrovertible evidence that’s already happening. That’s a clear impact in Florida,” Evans said. “But the rainfall, climate and the weather in Florida is highly variable. There’s already this natural variability, and you superimpose climate change on top of it, and it becomes incredibly complicated.”
In short? Florida’s wacky weather patterns make it uniquely challenging to identify how climate change is impacting and will impact the state in the future. But, regardless, Evans said, investing in better flood infrastructure will help.
Because, as he put it, “We clearly have a problem.”
A warming climate may be worsening local rainstorms, but Florida’s geology likely plays a role, too. Around 100,000 years ago, when the very shape of North America was in flux, sea levels receded and Florida as we know it arose.
Florida’s known for its swamps, its wetlands and its sandy soil, and that’s because much of the state, and all of Volusia County, is one big sand dune.
From the U.S. Geological Survey: “Ridges are the relatively high areas of land or small hills. In Volusia County, they are sand-dune systems that formed on the land side of a past ocean shore by the action of wind and waves. The ridges in Volusia County are locations where the sea shore was present for an extended period of time and are marked by beach dunes.”
One of those ridges is the DeLand Ridge, which DeLand sits right on top of.
Stetson University associate professor and chair of environmental science and studies Dr. Ben Tanner explained.
“The city of DeLand is roughly centered on the DeLand Ridge. If you’re on New York Avenue/State Road 44, you will go off of the DeLand Ridge right near I-4,” he said. “Next time you drive in that direction, notice that it is higher and drier toward DeLand, with abundant sand present, and how it is lower with more wetlands when you head east off of the ridge.”
It’s great to be high and dry when it rains, Tanner said, because the water table — the underground boundary where soil gives way to an area saturated with water — is higher, too.
The “saturated zone” under the water table in Florida is the aquifer.
The water table fluctuates throughout the year, mostly due to precipitation rates, and across the curves of a landscape.
And, when you’re in one of DeLand’s valleys — like the one near the corner of Florida and Georgia avenues — you risk flooding.
“When rainfall is intense and rapid, even well-drained soils can become saturated when infiltration can’t happen fast enough,” Tanner said. “In this situation, lower areas on the ridge can flood. This is especially true where impermeable surfaces, like rooftops and parking lots, funnel water into low areas.”
City staff are obviously aware of this, and they’ve worked hard to set up stormwater infrastructure that can alleviate some of that flooding, and plan to do more in the future.
When the old Fire Station 81 at the corner of Florida and Howry avenues is torn down, Pleus said, additional stormwater improvements will be made to the parking lot that will replace the old fire station, including creation of a pump station to push water faster through the lines down to the pond at Walts Avenue.
“This project will likely cost a few million, and we are hoping that the state will participate in the cost of that project as we likely cannot afford to do it on our own, and since most of the drainage is coming off of the state’s road,” Pleus said.
For Hyder Head Brewery owner Jeff Hyder, the flooding has been frustrating, but he doesn’t let it bother him too much. As he put it, “Buildings are not built to be waterproof. They’re not boats.”
Come hell and especially high water, Hyder doesn’t intend to go anywhere.
“I like this area and my spot so much that I am not planning on moving,” Hyder said. “I will deal with it with sandbags, or whatever, because I like Downtown DeLand so much.”