In a world where climate change is increasingly impacting our lives, we are experiencing rains like never before. Deadly deluges in places like China are trapping passengers on subway trains, water creeping up to their necks, rescuers are floating on rafts through Vermont’s capital city, and flooded rivers are demolishing national park infrastructure. The rains are growing more extreme, the floods more devastating, and scientists know exactly why.
The Effect of Warmer Temperatures on Rainfall
Our planet is warming and as the air temperature increases, the atmosphere can naturally hold more water vapor. Heat causes water molecules to evaporate into water vapor, resulting in more water in the air, particularly in many humid or rainy regions. This boosts the odds of potent storms like thunderstorms, mid-latitude cyclones, atmospheric rivers, or hurricanes, deluging places with more water.
Andreas Prein, a scientist researching weather extremes at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explains it simply: “Once you have more moisture in the air, you have a larger bucket you can empty.” Research shows that this results in pummeling downpours. “You can release more water in a shorter amount of time — there’s very little doubt about that,” Prein says.
The Consequences: Devastating Flooding
As a result, massive flooding ensues. The summer of 2021, for example, was rife with vivid, and at times jaw-dropping examples. Damaging and sometimes extremely deadly floods have recently hit Europe, New York City, India, China, Detroit, and beyond.
A Warming Climate and Its Impact on Rain Patterns
However, it’s crucial to understand that a warming climate doesn’t mean it’s always going to rain profoundly hard. What it does mean is that there are increased odds for strong storms to pick up extra water vapor in the atmosphere, resulting in these extreme deluges that drop many inches of rain in just a few hours.
The Call to Action
We are living in a world that is continually changing, and our weather patterns are no exception. Today’s rains are exceptionally bad, and science tells us that this trend will likely continue if we don’t take significant measures to mitigate climate change. We must understand the gravity of the situation and act accordingly, as our future, and that of generations to come, depends on it.