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Sierra Daily

Apr 28, 2011

Catastrophic Midwest Flooding: The New Normal

Once again thawing snows and extremely heavy rains are pummelling the Midwest, as seen in this satellite image from NASA Earth Observatory. Climate Progress reports that the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois, is expected to crest at 60.5 feet on Sunday, exceeding the 100-year flood stage and in fact all previous records. Flash floods have killed 10 in Arkansas, and a horrific mile-wide tornado killed at least 160 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Here's the flood outlook from NOAA:

Obviously this is a major tragedy to thousands of people, and it's immaterial to them what, if anything beyond the unpredictable wrath of nature, might have led to it. The rest of us, though, need to ask ourselves: Do we share responsibility? Here's an extract from a paper published in February in the Journal Nature, “Human contribution to more-intense precipitation extremes”:

Here we show that human-induced increases in greenhouse gases have contributed to the observed intensification of heavy precipitation events found over approximately two-thirds of data-covered parts of Northern Hemisphere land areas. . . . Changes in extreme precipitation projected by models, and thus the impacts of future changes in extreme precipitation, may be underestimated because models seem to underestimate the observed increase in heavy precipitation with warming.

--Paul Rauber


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