Q&A: Was the climate crisis fueled by the Henry and Tennessee floods? | Tennessee

aThe western United States baked into a prolonged drought, parts of the eastern half of the country faced the opposite problem as torrential rains and high winds damaged communities as far apart as Tennessee and Rhode Island.

Climate scientists have said that while it is difficult to give an accurate attribution yet to the floods Tennessee And the impact of Hurricane Henry in New England, the hallmarks of the human-caused climate crisis are undoubtedly present to some extent.

What distinguishes these particular events?

Henry weakened slightly to become a tropical storm, but he still gathered winds of about 70 mph as it swept across Rhode Island, becoming the first storm of this strength to hit New England in three decades, cutting power to about 100,000 people, uprooting trees and flooding streets. Flood water.

Saturday night, Central Park in New York City had its wettest hour in recorded history, falling nearly 2 inches of rain from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. More than 30 million people from New Jersey To New Hampshire on a flood warning.

An even greater tragedy unfolded about 700 miles southwest of Tennessee on Saturday, as cascades of rain unleashed severe flooding that killed at least 22 people, and dozens are still missing. The flooding, centered in Waverley, just west of the state capital Nashville, was caused by 17 inches of torrential rain in just 24 hours – a new state record.

So, is there a link to climate change with Henry?

In many respects, Henry was a very unusual storm, with a patch of high pressure on one side and low pressure on the other causing it to turn farther north from such weather systems.

But climate trends play a role – Research Show that tropical storms migrate to the pole as the Earth warms, making more northern storms like Henry more likely, while rising ocean temperatures provide more fuel for storms to become stronger.

A rescue crew member wades into high water after a flash flood, as Tropical Storm Henry makes landfall, in Helmita, New Jersey, on Sunday.
A rescue crew member wades into high water after a flash flood, as Tropical Storm Henry makes landfall, in Helmita, New Jersey, on Sunday. Photo: Tom Brenner/AFP/Getty Images

The Atlantic has been several degrees warmer than normal over the past week, feeding Henry’s intensity as he heads toward Rhode Island. James Kosin, a hurricane expert at the University of Wisconsin, said ocean temperatures are “very anomalous right now.” “There is a potential human imprint on that.”

Major hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean become more frequent And the waters off the northeast coast are helping drive this change. “The Northeast has experienced some of the highest rates of sea level rise and ocean warming in the United States, and these exceptional increases compared to other regions are expected to continue through the end of the century,” advertiser The US government’s most recent National Climate Assessment.

Are flash floods in Tennessee a sign of the climate crisis?

Like Henry, there was the confluence of the local factors of the Tennessee floods, like a wave of high humidity and the gathering of several slow-moving and fierce thunderstorms.

But research has shown that such events fit into a broader pattern, as the warm atmosphere is able to hold in much more moisture than before, allowing for intense bursts of rain that can cause catastrophic flash floods.

The prevalence of one-day extreme precipitation events in the United States has “significantly increased” since the 1980s, According to the Environmental Protection Agency, with nine of the first ten years of such severe floods occurring since 1996.

The amount of rain that falls during the fiercest storms Increased by about a third In the southeastern United States since the 1950s, causing scenes such as the disaster experienced by Tennessee.

This is also a global phenomenon, as seen recently in severe floods in Germany and China. In her latest report,The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that “human-caused climate change is likely the main driver” of increased extreme precipitation events worldwide.

Where does the United States go from here?

It could be a good start to dramatically reduce global warming emissions that make these floods so catastrophic — scientists have said emissions should essentially be halved during this decade before being eliminated by mid-century if climate impacts are much worse, such as severe floods and storms. , should be avoided.

Meanwhile, the floods will raise more questions about the federal flood insurance scheme Critics say Promotes rebuilding in vulnerable areas, climate resilience of American cities and The growing financial cost of reviving shattered societies.

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