Rainiest Weather Days Getting Even Wetter Over Time

Posted: November 14, 2021 11:18 am

The US will experience a greater likelihood of severe flooding events in the future, according to a new study by Climate Central. What parts of the country are at the highest risk of these future events?

Climate Control Study Details

Climate Control is a group of independent journalists, researchers, and scientists that work together at a consortium in Princeton, New Jersey. The study looked at the heaviest single-day rainfall instances of every year dating back 70 total years. The research examined 246 unique locations in the US. Of these locations, 72% experienced an increase in the rainfall measurements on the annual soggiest day since 1950.

Where were the regions that saw the most significant rainfall by volume? The analysis showed that Houston experienced an 83% jump in rain on its wettest day when compared to the wettest day in 1950. Other cities that saw a substantial increase include Greenville, North Carolina, and Pensacola, Florida. In general, the mid-Atlantic and Gulf Coast are seeing the biggest increases in rainy days.

Hurricanes and Thunderstorms Dump Record Rainfall

It is not surprising to learn that these two regions have been experiencing the greatest increase in single-day rainfall records. This is because these events often happen at the hands of hurricanes and thunderstorms, both types of weather that are more common along the Gulf Coast and mid-Atlantic. For example, the heaviest rainfall measurement in Houston in 2017 happened on August 27 when Hurricane Harvey roared into the city.

The atmospheric rivers that are more common along the West Coast are also responsible for record-breaking moisture events. Just last month, an atmospheric river set up over Northern California dumped over five inches of rain on the capital city of Sacramento in just one day. This amount clocked in as the most rainfall that the city had experienced in one day dating back to 1950.

Thunderstorms are also capable of producing a significant amount of rain over a short period of time. Atlantic City, New Jersey, recorded over 11 inches in 1997. This measurement was almost five inches higher than what the city had previously seen as the largest single-day rain event.

What This Data Means

When looked at as a whole, the data predicts that heavy rainfall events are increasing throughout the US. As a result, much of the nation is under a greater threat of flash flooding. This is significant because flooding is historically one of the costliest weather dangers in the US. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), flooding is responsible for approximately $48 billion in damages during the time period of 2016 through 2020. This damage is more prevalent in poor and rural areas, compounding the issue further.

Why the Increase?

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Scientists point to climate change as being the impetus for the increase in heavy rainfall events. Because the atmosphere is able to retain more moisture when it is warmer, it makes sense that global warming would also lead to a higher probability of more intense rainfall events. Experts continue to warn that the frequency of these events will only increase as the planet warms.

Global warming also has a hand in the increase in major hurricanes in recent years. The prevalence of more moisture provides the fuel for these storms, exasperating the chance of flooding.

Outliers

Despite the increase in record rainfall events for most areas, there are a few outliers in the study. For example, Washington, DC, Little Rock, Arkansas, and Dayton, Ohio both saw a small decrease in highest single-day rainfall totals over the measured time period. Chicago also has escaped the record high precipitation days, remaining relatively flat over the years.

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