For the Midwest, Epic Flooding Is the Face of Climate Change

WIRED | 5/24/2019 | Megan Molteni
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Fierce storms lashed across the central US this week, unleashing hundreds of powerful tornadoes that carved a path of destruction through parts of Missouri and Oklahoma Wednesday night and left at least three dead. While the worst of the violent winds have passed, the region is now bracing for massive flooding, following record amounts of rain brought by the severe weather system and with more expected over the weekend. And it’s coming on the heels of the wettest 12 months the US has seen since record-keeping began in 1895.

That’s according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which earlier this year predicted that two-thirds of the states in the Lower 48 would risk major or moderate flooding between March and May. “This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season, with more than 200 million people at risk for flooding in their communities,” Ed Clark, director of NOAA’s National Water Center said in the agency’s spring outlook report.

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So far, it’s proven prescient—with rivers from North Dakota east to Ohio and south to Louisiana all overflowing their banks in recent weeks. The damage to homes, businesses, and farm fields is likely to rise into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Megan Molteni covers genetic technology, medicine, and sharks for WIRED.

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Scientists say it’s too early to tell to what degree this particularly relentless spring storm season is the result of human-induced climate change. But they agree that rising temperatures allow the atmosphere to hold more moisture—about seven percent more for every one degree rise in Celsius—which produces more precipitation and has been fueling a pattern of more extreme weather events across the US. And perhaps more than any other part of the country, the Midwest has had its capacity to store excess water crippled by human enterprise.

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