As states in the Northeast U.S. recover from fatal flooding, scientists from NASA say to expect “bigger and more intense” flood events as a result of global warming—here’s how climate change impacts flooding.
Middlebury, VT – At least seven people have been killed by flash floods in New York, Pennsylvania … [+] and Vermont. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Research by NASA’s Dr. Matthew Rodell and Dr. Bailing Li earlier this year found the intensity of extreme water cycle events, such as flooding or droughts, between 2002 and 2021 correlated with global mean temperatures.
During the investigated time period, Rodell and Li found 505 wet events and 510 dry events occurred and lasted for an average 5-6 months—with frequencies worsening between 2015-2021, the seven warmest years in the study.
Some areas were hit harder than others by flooding: Africa, Australia, Eurasia and South America faced more dry events than wet events, while North America was the only continent that experienced more wet events than dry events.
Rodell, who serves as a deputy director in the earth sciences division of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, explained that warmer air causes more evaporation from the ocean and wet parts of the land.
The collection of this excessive water can lead to drought and, when it is released from the atmosphere, it can lead to heavy downpours that cause extreme flooding events.
With temperatures rising across the globe, extreme flooding is expected to intensify: “What used to be a 1-in-1,000 year rain event may be a 1-in-100 year rain event or more frequent,” Rodell told Forbes.
According to the National Center for Environmental Information, 2023—a year marked by the El Niño weather pattern—is on track to rank among the top 10 warmest recorded years.
Several states have faced deadly flooding in recent weeks. A torrential rainstorm north of Philadelphia over the weekend killed five people, one person died in record-breaking flooding in Vermont earlier this month and heavy rainfall and flash floods battered New York’s Hudson Valley and claimed the life of one New Yorker. Meanwhile outside the United States, India has faced massive flooding and heavy rainfall that persists today, and heavy rain that started on July 9 in South Korea continued to pour across the country on July 17 and had reportedly killed nearly 40 people by then. Japan saw record-breaking levels of rainfall last Monday, according to CNN, leading to flooding, landslides and the death of at least six people.
While Americans in the Northeast deal with the aftermath of excessive and fatal flooding—some of whom are expecting continued rainfall this week—their Southern counterparts have been dealing with excessive and fatal heat. Cities like Phoenix have faced temperatures well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit for over a week, and more cities are expected to breach their daily record highs.
Global temperatures are expected to rise between 1.1 and 1.8 degrees Celsius above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial average over the next five years, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Along with flooding and droughts, climate change is linked with worsening heat waves, hurricanes and wildfires. Large disasters that caused over $1 billion in losses led to a total of $165 billion in damage last year in the U.S., the third-highest year on record.
‘1-In-1,000-Year Weather Event’ As Extreme Rain And Floods Ravage Northeast (Forbes)
Heavy Rains Cause Severe Flooding In New York State, At Least One Killed (Forbes)
Millions Suffering Under Stifling Heat: Here’s Where Records Could Be Broken This Week (Forbes)