Thanks to global climate change, we’re likely to see a huge increase in the number and intensity of extreme rainfall events by the middle of the 21st century.
Extreme rainfall events cause flash floods and other problems for local infrastructure, and can be quite harmful for agriculture as well. As the global temperature increases, more water can be held in the atmosphere. This means more extreme rainstorms can happen, but, perhaps counterintuitively, it also means that fewer mild or moderate rain showers will occur during the summer.
The increase in extreme rainfall events will vary across the country, with some parts seeing a much less noticeable increase, while others might see as much as a 400 percent increase. This is the problem that drought-stricken areas like the Southwest are likely going to face: increasing numbers of torrential downpours can wipe out large areas due to landslides and erosion. The Gulf Coast states including Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas, could also see an increase between 200 and 400 percent.
“These are huge increases,” said study lead author Andreas Prein of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “Imagine the most intense thunderstorm you typically experience in a single season. Our study finds that, in the future, parts of the U.S. could expect to experience five of those storms in a season, each with an intensity as strong or stronger than current storms.”
Extreme rainfall events will put infrastructure in parts of the country under significant pressure, and in all likelihood, those systems are not going to be able to keep up with the changes. While we’ve been able to figure out that there will be more such storms, and that they could be even heavier than they already are in some cases, we’re likely to still have trouble predicting when such storms will hit.
The predictions in this study are based on worst-case scenarios, assuming that we fail to curtail emissions enough to keep global temperature change to less than two degrees Celsius by the end of the century. If our leaders can work together and form a plan to reduce emissions, we’re likely to see a much less extreme version of this prediction come true.