LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) - According to the National Weather Service, flooding is the most common weather hazard in the United States. And on average floods result in more deaths any other severe weather related event. Flooding is also an economic hazard that can cause billions of dollars in damages. Now, a study says flooding trends will worsen in coming years.
The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization (RMCO) and the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) say flooding is on the rise in the Midwest, and this is a direct result of heavy precipitating storms. Their report, titled, "Doubled Trouble: More Midwestern Extreme Storms" looks at precipitation in 8 states over a 51 years and found a drastic increase in extreme storms. The study shows these storms are occurring at an accelerated rate and with the last 12 years seeing seven of the top nine years for most extreme storms since 1961.
Kevin Shafer, executive director of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewer District, has been combating urban flooding for years and says the report is a wake-up call. "Normally when we hear about climate change in the Midwest it's always somewhere else. It's a glacier melting or sea levels rising. But what the report does is really drives home the message that the Midwest is going to be experiencing significant changes in rainfall patterns through the region."
It's normal to see variations in the climate from year to year, and this study does not forecast flooding or extreme weather for any year in particular. It predicts that trends of increased frequency and strength of Midwestern storms will continue to rise unless there is a drastic reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions.
This study directly links global climate change and extreme storms, but the RMCO president Stephen Saunders says the report does not make any new assertions about climate change. On the RMCO website (http://rockymountainclimate.org) Saunders explains. "Global studies already show that human-caused climate change is driving more extreme precipitation, and now we've documented how great the increase has been in the Midwest and linked the extreme storms to flooding in the region. A threshold may already have been crossed, so that major floods in the Midwest perhaps now should no longer be considered purely natural disasters but instead mixed natural/unnatural disasters. And if emissions keep going up, the forecast is for more extreme storms in the region."
Besides listing their findings, the report gives ways communities can combat and prepare for changing weather patterns. The full report can be found at http://rockymountainclimate.org/reports_3.htm.