On Global Warming and the Catastrophic Flooding in the Central U.S.

NWF   |   June 25, 2008

Dnr_ne_gov_storm_jpg As so many grapple with catastrophic flooding in the central United States, my thoughts and prayers are with those in harm’s way.

The big picture is that global warming is making tragedies like these more frequent and more intense. Global warming is happening now. Our dependency on fossil fuels like oil and coal is causing the problem, and people and wildlife are witnessing the effects.

There are things we can do now to reduce floodplain risk, such as:

– Review all significant dams and levees for risks and public safety;

– Increase the nation’s commitment to updating and improving floodplain maps, and incorporating future conditions (including effects of urbanization and global warming factors), and creating stronger zoning rules and increasing wetlands protections that can reduce flooding to keep people and homes safe;

– Adopting policies that restrict new building and new levees that encourage development in high-risk and often environmentally-sensitive areas.

Although no single weather event can be attributed to global warming, it’s critical to understand that a warming climate is supplying the very conditions that fuel these kinds of weather events: it is a law of physics that warmer air is able to carry more water.

And many of our past solutions, such as basing predictions only on past flooding histories, instead of foreseeable future conditions and relying on levees that give occupants a false sense of security, must be rethought in light of increasing development and global warming.

Science tells us that we are experiencing trends toward more heavy precipitation events, especially in the eastern half of the continental United States during summer.

To get at the root of the problem and avoid continued catastrophes like this, we need to reduce global warming pollution that is fueling a warming climate.

Read more about the effects of climate change on extreme weather patterns in the U.S. Climate Change Science Program’s recent report Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate, Regions of Focus: North America, Hawaii, Caribbean, and U.S. Pacific Islands.

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Published: June 25, 2008