Climate Change is a Precipitation Problem Too

Climate Change is a Precipitation Problem Too

Climate change isn't just a one-dimensional problem of rising temperatures to solve. The warmer air speeds up evaporation and increases moisture, which leads to changes in precipitation patterns. A year-long USA Today project shows both heavy downpours and dry spells becoming more extreme. For almost a week last June, storms along the Mississippi River broke at least 136 daily rainfall records, while eight states had at least three record-dry years.

"It's not a contradiction to have huge floods, unprecedented floods, and unprecedented heatwaves and droughts at the same time," Michael Mann, acclaimed author of The New Climate War and a climatologist at Penn State University, told USA Today.

Why This Matters

From intense drought in the Western US to a seven-inch downpour flooding in Detroit, changing rainfall patterns have all sorts of implications. They can throw off agricultural patterns and overwhelm infrastructure. The USA Today project found that over a 30-year period (since records dating back to the turn of the 20th century), 27 US states have had their highest average precipitation in the last 3 years. On the opposite side of the spectrum is what happened in Colorado last year, when extreme heat coupled with drought and wildfires is followed by a short, intense downpour, it can cause mudslides.

Climate disasters can disrupt peoples' lives, and they’re expensive. Globally, 2021 was the sixth of the past ten years of climate disasters costing over $100 billion. Hurricane Ida -- a water-related event -- was the single most expensive disaster last year at an estimated $65 billion and displaced tens of thousands of people.

See How Rainfall Has Changed in Your Own Backyard

What rainfall patterns are playing out where you live? The USA Today project includes a tool to look into trends and historic patterns. For example: in Miami, the number of heavy precipitation events has increased by 28.7% over the past 30 years, while Denver's number has decreased by 0.8%.

Guardian: Climate change is making floods worse - here's how, October 19, 2021.

ABC10: How atmospheric rivers are becoming more dangerous due to climate change, December 9, 2020.