No Matter Where You Live in the US, Expect Climate-Induced Water Woes
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Rising temperatures and shifting, capricious precipitation patterns are affecting where, when, and how much water fills America’s rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, and how water is absorbed to replenish groundwater reserves—putting tremendous pressure on communities and businesses who compete for that water.
Current climate change trends and a wide range of climate computer models point toward very difficult hydrological times ahead across the United States. While the West appears to be moving inexorably toward “super drought,” the Northeast is swinging in the opposite direction, with intense thunderstorms bringing more frequent, record-breaking flashfloods. The Midwest and South appear to be heading in a third direction: into whiplash weather, seesawing between alternating years of extreme drought and deluge.
The solution in all four U.S. regions is the same: conservation, preparedness and adaption—along with a real effort to curb fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions.
Hard Rain Fallin’ – Northeast Deluges Intensify
I live in the Northeast, and now, for me, climate change is personal.
It’s been almost a year since Superstorm Sandy submerged my city, Hoboken, NJ--and my home--in toxic floodwaters laden with oil, sewage and chemicals.
On that horrific night, my family and I gathered in the dark with neighbors on the top steps of our building, stranded in a waterworld as winds roared and storm waters surged. Though we live a half-mile from the Hudson River, a wall of water flowed up our street—it felt like a sci-fi movie—and blew our basement doors off their hinges. Six feet of water rushed in, knocking out the building’s heating and electrical systems, ruining a lifetime of uninsured personal possessions and doing some $50,000 in damage.
The next day, streets flowed with reeking black water and the National Guard arrived with lifeboats and military vehicles to save thousands of stranded Hoboken-ites. The flooded PATH tunnels to New York halted trains used daily by 30,000 commuters. In just hours, Sandy brought city life to a shuddering halt, and flooded coastal communities from Maryland to Maine.
But Sandy tells just part of the story of the Northeast’s intensifying storms. The magnitude and regularity of freakish flashflood-causing thunderstorms here has grown exponentially in recent decades. In August, for example, flashfloods struck the towns of Waterville, ME, Torrington, CT, Cranston, RI, and Tewksbury, NJ; this month, record rains fell in Washington, D.C. The heaviest of these sudden storms can dump a foot of rain in just hours, inundating homes and businesses that lack flood insurance because they are located on high ground not historically prone to flooding.
In January, a congressional report concluded that severe weather is the new norm across the nation—the frequency and intensity of droughts, heat waves, downpours and floods have increased due to human-induced climate change caused by burning fossil fuels.
The science is simple. In a warming world, the atmosphere holds more water, bringing frequent, heavier rainfall, six percent more nationwide than a century ago. The trouble is that water isn’t falling uniformly across the country.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, between 1958 and 2011 the amount of rain falling in heavy downpours increased by an astounding 74 percent in the Northeast, turning rivers and creeks into torrents, tearing up undersized culverts, and wrecking streamside roads.
By 2100, scientists expect New England’s precipitation to increase by 10 percent in spring and summer, 15 percent in fall, and 20 to 60 percent in winter. By then, New York City may be submerged in a 100-year flood once per decade.
While a growing number of super thunderstorms and flashfloods impact the East, the West is seeing the reverse.