Fort Lauderdale experienced the rainiest day in its history Wednesday – a 1-in-1,000-year rainfall event – sparking a flash flood emergency in Broward County that has prompted emergency rescues, forced drivers to abandon cars, shuttered schools and shut down the airport through 9 a.m. Friday. And more rain is coming down.
The region recorded widespread rainfall totals of more than a foot, while Fort Lauderdale tallied 25.91 inches in a 24-hour period, according to preliminary reports from the National Weather Service office in Miami.
Two weak tornadoes also hit Broward County Wednesday, one just west of Hollywood and another south of the Fort Lauderdale airport, according to the Miami National Weather Service. Both were short-lived and rated EF-0, the weakest category.
More rain on Thursday caused more flooding, the city of Fort Lauderdale said Thursday evening.
A flash flood warning for southern Broward County, including Fort Lauderdale, Pembroke Pines and Hollywood, has been extended until 9:30 p.m., the National Weather Service said.
Between 2 and 3 inches of rain fell across the warning area Thursday afternoon, according to the service. An additional 1 to 3 inches is still possible, especially south of Fort Lauderdale near Hollywood.
Between 14 and 20 inches of rain had drenched the greater Fort Lauderdale metro area since Wednesday afternoon, according to a Thursday morning update from the National Weather Service office in Miami. The deluge is the “most severe flooding that I’ve ever seen,” one mayor said.
“This amount of rain in a 24-hour period is incredibly rare for South Florida,” said meteorologist Ana Torres-Vazquez from the weather service’s Miami forecast office.
Rainfall of 20 to 25 inches is similar to what the area can receive with a high-end hurricane over more than a day, Torres-Vazquez explained. She described the rainfall as a “1-in-1,000 year event, or greater,” meaning it’s an event so intense, the chance of it happening in any given year is just 0.1%.
During the peak of Wednesday’s deluge, a month’s worth of rain fell in just one hour. Fort Lauderdale’s average rainfall for April is 3 inches and it’s been nearly 25 years since the city totaled 20 inches of rain in an entire month.
Extreme rainfall is a signature consequence of a warming climate, and it is happening more frequently. The deluge in South Florida is just the latest instance after 1-in-1000 year rains struck over the past year in areas including Dallas, St. Louis, eastern Kentucky and Yellowstone.
“Even though the heavy rain has concluded, numerous roads remain closed,” the weather service said, adding that flooding is expected to persist.
Earlier, Fort Lauderdale was “experiencing severe flooding in multiple areas of the city,” Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue said on social media, warning to stay off the roads as vehicles may become stuck or submerged.
A flash flood emergency – the highest level of flood warning – that was in effect for portions of South Florida, including Fort Lauderdale, expired early Thursday.
City crews in Hollywood, Florida, “are doing everything they can” to deploy pumps wherever possible and keep drains clear, Mayor Josh Levy told CNN.
“We’ve recorded over 12 inches of rain since midnight, and that’s on top of consecutive days of seemingly nonstop rain,” Levy said. “The ground was already saturated so there is extensive flooding all over our city and throughout South Florida. Many roadways are impassable. Lots of vehicles got stuck and left abandoned in the middle of our roadways.
“I’ve lived here my whole life. This is the most severe flooding that I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Several state agencies and emergency resources are assisting with the flood situation, according to a news release from Gov. Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis on Thursday declared a state of emergency for Broward County.
In Fort Lauderdale, airboats and high-clearance buggies were secured from the county sheriff’s office and the Florida Wildlife Commission as officials activated their emergency operations center, they said in a statement early Thursday.
Emergency crews worked continuously overnight responding to rescue calls across South Florida, Fort Lauderdale city officials said.
City hall was closed Thursday and will remain closed Friday, officials said.
City officials are asking neighbors to be patient as “flooding conditions remain impactful in the southern areas of the City this morning.”
“We expect the flooding to subside through the next hours and have seen improvements in certain areas of downtown,” the officials said.
Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue crews received over 900 calls for service during overnight flooding, according to Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis. Police and fire crews were still responding to calls for service, the city said Thursday evening. About 600 people were taken to shelters, the city said.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office assisted the agency in 300 rescue calls received during the historic flooding event, according to the mayor.
“There is not one area of this city that has not been impacted,” Trantalis said.
Officials had asked residents to avoid driving or traveling in Fort Lauderdale amid the storms.
“Public Works staff are clearing drains and operating pumps to mitigate the water as quickly as possible. Efforts have been made to relieve traffic congestion through prioritized signaling to assist individuals leaving the City. We are requesting drivers to stay off the roads and avoid the City of Fort Lauderdale until the water has subsided,” the city of Fort Lauderdale said in a news release on Wednesday evening.
“Because of the extreme amount of water, most areas will need to drain naturally,” Trantalis said. “Crews are out in neighborhoods clearing storm drains to aid water receding from neighborhoods. Vacuum trucks are being deployed strategically throughout the city.”
The Florida Highway Patrol has closed several exits on Interstate 95 in Fort Lauderdale, the city’s fire department said.
In Coral Gables in Miami-Dade County, officials are working on two water main breaks, according to the Coral Gables Police Department.
Some roads in the city are shut down due to the flooding, while others have limited travel, police said, noting residents should give themselves extra time to commute to work.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Wednesday it is “being inundated with non-emergency 911 calls regarding the inclement weather” and asks residents to use 911 only for “true emergencies,” also telling residents to avoid driving and to call a tow truck company if a vehicle is stranded and not in an emergency.
Some local services are shuttering Thursday. The Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is closed due to ongoing flooding in the vicinity and will reopen Friday at 9 a.m., according to an update from the airport.
The Brightline train service was temporarily suspended between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, the service said on social media. It was restored Thursday.
Additionally, Broward County Public Schools announced the district will be closed for a second day Friday.
“No city could have planned for this,” Trantalis said.
Trantalis says he has spoken to the White House and Senator Marco Rubio about the situation.
The mayor said Gov. “DeSantis has not yet called but I’m sure he is very interested in what’s going on here.”
Trapped by floodwaters
Mandi-Lynn Guertin flew into Fort Lauderdale with her friends for a three-day country music festival that starts Friday.
The group flew in from Connecticut and had never experienced weather like this, Guertin told CNN.
The car they rented got stuck in about 3 feet of water, died and water quickly filled the inside, so they had to leave it on the side of the road.
“We currently can’t leave our Airbnb because the flood waters are too high and no Ubers will come out to get us,” Guertin said.
Guertin and her friends work in emergency services back home but Wednesday night, the quick nature of the flooding really scared them, she said.
“Southern hospitality and helping your ‘neighbors’ is truly a thing down here and I could not be more thankful today,” she wrote on Facebook. “So many strangers did so much for us tonight.”
For now, the group plans to wait it out at their Airbnb, without much of a choice and hope that enough water recedes so they can attend the music festival tomorrow, which has not been canceled yet.
Rock The Ocean’s Tortuga Music Festival, the oceanside festival, will “move forward” as planned, despite flood conditions in the city, according to event organizers.
Dawn Grayson lives 20 minutes from Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood International Airport and also got stuck on her way home Wednesday when torrential rain flooded the airport and surrounding roads.
Grayson was stuck in her car for several hours while she waited for flood waters to subside, she told CNN.
“The parking garages were flooding, and vehicles got stuck,” Grayson said. “We were stuck in our vehicle for 5 hours on the terminal road.”
CNN’s Melissa Alonso, Brandon Miller, Robert Shackelford, Derek Van Dam, Sara Weisfeldt, Tina Burnside, Devon Sayers and Taylor Ward contributed to this report.