Droughts and Floods Now 200% More Likely

Climate Change Makes the Double Threat of Drought and Floods More Common

Climate change is making the severe droughts followed by extreme flooding increasingly common. UN Secretery-General António Guterres called the recent weather events in Pakistan a “monsoon on steroids.” The extreme weather events impacted 33 million people, leaving 1,100 dead (including 380 children), one-third of the country underwater, and more than $10 billion in damages. Pakistan’s Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman called it a “humanitarian disaster of epic proportions.”

And last week, 1000-year floods made landfall in Dallas, Texas, where drought conditions are what likely made flooding and related damages worse. Dry topsoil, typical of drought-stricken regions, struggles to absorb water so that when rain does come, water flows over (not into) the hardened dirt. The result: bigger and more sudden floods.

Guardian: Pakistan floods affect 33 million people as national emergency declared, August 26, 2022.

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

ABC: Rainfall from climate change could affect economic growth | Study, January 12, 2022.

Why This Matters

Climate change is making a viscous cycle more common: first drought, then severe rain, and often in the same place. This means long, dry spells that broken suddenly by hard, monsoon-style rains due to higher atmospheric temperatures and moisture.

“One of the oldest predictions of climate change is that the variability of rainfall is going to increase,” Andrew Dessler, professor and director of the Texas Center for Climate Studies at Texas A&M University, told Grid.

Hot, dry conditions can also destroy vegetation and even spark wildfires. Without roots from shrubbery, trees, and other plants helping to keep the ground in place, top layers of dirt can be easily washed away, possibly even causing mudslides.

DW: Floods, drought and the consequences of extreme weather (Documentary), July 26, 2022.

AP: Rain triggers deadly flash floods in Iran, Jul 29, 2022.

BBC: Deadly heatwaves '100 times more likely' due to climate change, May 18, 2022.

The Dry Wild West

The combination of drought and floods can be catastrophic, but dry conditions can be troublesome on their own, too. Two months ago, states in the Western US dependent on the Colorado River were given 60 days to broker an agreement over water rights, or the federal government would intervene. With the deadline passed, states have said little and done even less, and action on the part of the federal government has yet to materialize. Without urgent action, Southwestern states are walking “hand-in-hand into disaster,” wrote TIME.

Wall Street Journal: Why the Western Drought Will Have Major Ripple Effects, July 13, 2021.

CBS: Climate change elevating risk of dangerous weather, July 25, 2022.

CBS: Megadrought in the West threatens energy and water security, May 5, 2022.

US lawmakers can look to the Sichuan province of China for a glimpse at what that disaster might look like. There, severe droughts and heatwaves have led to widespread hydropower failures that are limiting power to homes and offices and shutting down factories. The region is normally responsible for 30% of the whole country’s power supply, leaving China in an energy lurch.

Bloomberg: China’s Historic Drought Spawns Power Crisis in Test for Xi, August 24, 2022.

DW: Disruption in water cycle threatens the Earth, August 23, 2022.

NBC: Extreme Heat Raises Concerns about US Power Grids, June 18, 2022.