Extreme Downpours up 30 Percent Since 1948 According to New Report
Nearly one year after Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee led to record flooding that devastated communities up and down the East Coast, a new Environment America Research & Policy Center report confirms that extreme rainstorms and snowstorms are happening 30 percent more frequently on average nationwide since 1948.
“As the old saying goes, when it rains, it pours—especially in recent years as bigger storms have hit us more often,” said Nathan Willcox, federal global warming program director with Environment America. “We need to heed scientists’ warnings that this dangerous trend is linked to global warming, and do everything we can to cut carbon pollution today.”
Based on an analysis of state data from the National Climatic Data Center, the new report found that heavy downpours that used to happen once every 12 months on average now happen every 9 months on average. Moreover, the biggest storms are getting bigger. The largest annual storms nationwide now produce 10 percent more precipitation, on average than they did 65 years ago.
Scientists have concluded that the rise in the frequency and severity of heavy rainstorms and snowstorms is linked to global warming. Warming increases evaporation and enables the atmosphere to hold more water, providing more fuel for extreme rainstorms and heavy snowstorms.
In addition to the well-known stories of communities in Vermont being cut off from the outside world by flooding from Hurricane Irene last year, Willcox pointed to the 2010 flooding that hit Nashville, Tenn. as another example of extreme precipitation wreaking havoc. The flooding in Nashville, which was deemed a “1,000 year” flood, inflicted nearly $2 billion in damage and killed 30 people.
The new Environment America Research & Policy Center report, When It Rains, It Pours: Global Warming and the Increase in Extreme Precipitation from 1948 to 2011, examines trends in the frequency of and the total amount of precipitation produced by extreme rain and snow storms across the contiguous U.S. from 1948 to 2011. Using data from 3,700 weather stations and a methodology originally developed by scientists at the National Climatic Data Center and the Illinois State Water Survey, the report identifies storms with the greatest 24-hour precipitation totals at each weather station, and analyzes when those storms occurred. The report also examines trends in the amount of precipitation produced by the largest annual storm at each weather station.
Nationally, the report found that storms with extreme precipitation increased in frequency by 30 percent across the contiguous U.S. from 1948 to 2011. Moreover, the largest annual storms produced 10 percent more precipitation, on average. At the state level, 43 states show a significant trend toward more frequent storms with extreme precipitation, while only one state (Oregon) shows a significant decline.
Key findings include:
- Extreme rainstorms and snowstorms are becoming more frequent. There was a 30 percent increase in the frequency of extreme rainstorms and snowstorms from 1948 to 2011. In other words, heavy downpours or snowstorms that happened once every 12 months on average in 1948 now happen every 9 months, on average.
- The New England and Mid-Atlantic regions of the country experienced the largest increases in the frequency of extreme precipitation, seeing increases of 85 percent and 55 percent respectively. That means that heavy downpours or snowstorms that happened once every 12 months on average in 1948 in New England now happen every six and a half months, on average.
- The biggest rainstorms and snowstorms are getting bigger. The amount of precipitation released by the largest annual storms increased by 10 percent from 1948 to 2011 on average nationally.
Environment America was joined by U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) in releasing today’s report.
“Illinois has seen it all in the last year—extreme flooding that forced residents of Cairo to evacuate, a severe blizzard in Chicago that shut down Lake Shore Drive and one of the worst droughts on record affecting the entire state,” said Sen. Durbin. “We are ignoring the obvious—our extreme weather events are getting worse, catastrophic in fact, and the federal government is unprepared. We need to begin to address the reality that there will be more extreme weather events and ensure that we are taking the necessary steps to protect our communities.”
“Any Rhode Islander who lived through the historic storm and floods of 2010 knows about extreme weather,” said Sen. Whitehouse. “The clear scientific evidence of increased extreme weather is also a warning—to prepare our communities, our natural resources and our economy for the potentially devastating effects of climate change."
Willcox was careful to note that an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme rainstorms does not mean more water will be available for human use. Hotter temperatures fuel extreme rainstorms by increasing rates of evaporation. At the same time, however, that evaporation increases soil dryness. Moreover, scientists expect that, as global warming intensifies, longer periods with relatively little precipitation will tend to mark the periods between heavy rainstorms. As a result, droughts are likely to become more frequent and severe in some regions of the U.S. Currently, more than half of the lower U.S. is suffering through prolonged drought, aggravated by the fact that the last six months have been the hottest January-June period on record.
According to the most recent science, the U.S. must reduce its total global warming emissions by at least 35 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and by at least 85 percent by 2050 in order to prevent the most devastating consequences of global warming. Environment America highlighted two proposals from the Obama administration—carbon pollution and fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks through model year 2025, and the first ever carbon pollution standards for new power plants—as critical steps toward meeting these pollution reduction targets.
“How serious this problem gets is largely within our control—but only if we act boldly to reduce the pollution that fuels global warming,” said Willcox. “We applaud the Obama administration for their proposals to cut carbon pollution from vehicles and new power plants, and urge them to move forward with finalizing these critical initiatives this year.”
- Redwoods are the world's tallest trees.
- Now scientists have discovered they are even bigger than we thought.
- Using laser technology they map the 80-meter giants.
- Trees are a key plank in the fight against climate change.
They are among the largest trees in the world, descendants of forests where dinosaurs roamed.
Pixabay / Simi Luft<p><span>Until recently, measuring these trees meant scaling their 80 meter high trunks with a tape measure. Now, a team of scientists from University College London and the University of Maryland uses advanced laser scanning, to create 3D maps and calculate the total mass.</span></p><p>The results are striking: suggesting the trees <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">may be as much as 30% larger than earlier measurements suggested.</a> Part of that could be due to the additional trunks the Redwoods can grow as they age, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a process known as reiteration</a>.</p>
New 3D measurements of large redwood trees for biomass and structure. Nature / UCL<p>Measuring the trees more accurately is important because carbon capture will probably play a key role in the battle against climate change. Forest <a href="https://www.wri.org/blog/2020/09/carbon-sequestration-natural-forest-regrowth" target="_blank">growth could absorb billions of tons</a> of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year.</p><p>"The importance of big trees is widely-recognised in terms of carbon storage, demographics and impact on their surrounding ecosystems," the authors wrote<a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank"> in the journal Nature</a>. "Unfortunately the importance of big trees is in direct proportion to the difficulty of measuring them."</p><p>Redwoods are so long lived because of their ability to <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cope with climate change, resist disease and even survive fire damage</a>, the scientists say. Almost a fifth of their volume may be bark, which helps protect them.</p>
Carbon Capture Champions<p><span>Earlier research by scientists at Humboldt University and the University of Washington found that </span><a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378112716302584" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Redwood forests store almost 2,600 tonnes of carbon per hectare</a><span>, their bark alone containing more carbon than any other neighboring species.</span></p><p>While the importance of trees in fighting climate change is widely accepted, not all species enjoy the same protection as California's coastal Redwoods. In 2019 the world lost the equivalent of <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation-and-forest-degradation" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30 soccer fields of forest cover every minute</a>, due to agricultural expansion, logging and fires, according to The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).</p>
Pixabay<p>Although <a href="https://c402277.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/publications/1420/files/original/Deforestation_fronts_-_drivers_and_responses_in_a_changing_world_-_full_report_%281%29.pdf?1610810475" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the rate of loss is reported to have slowed in recent years</a>, reforesting the world to help stem climate change is a massive task.</p><p><span>That's why the World Economic Forum launched the Trillion Trees Challenge (</span><a href="https://www.1t.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">1t.org</a><span>) and is engaging organizations and individuals across the globe through its </span><a href="https://uplink.weforum.org/uplink/s/uplink-issue/a002o00000vOf09AAC/trillion-trees" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Uplink innovation crowdsourcing platform</a><span> to support the project.</span></p><p>That's backed up by research led by ETH Zurich/Crowther Lab showing there's potential to restore tree coverage across 2.2 billion acres of degraded land.</p><p>"Forests are critical to the health of the planet," according to <a href="https://www.1t.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">1t.org</a>. "They sequester carbon, regulate global temperatures and freshwater flows, recharge groundwater, anchor fertile soil and act as flood barriers."</p><p><em data-redactor-tag="em" data-verified="redactor">Reposted with permission from the </em><span><em data-redactor-tag="em" data-verified="redactor"><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/03/redwoods-store-more-co2-and-are-more-enormous-than-we-thought/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em></span></p>
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