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Warming climate induces heavier rainfall rates, study shows

As climate change continues to lead to warming temperatures rainfall rates are also on the rise. Meteorologist Michael Behrens has details!

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — According to a new study released by Climate Central, hourly rainfall intensity is on the rise around the United States. 

What this means is heavier rainfall events and the potential for flash flooding are both on the rise as a result. Data from Climate Central shows that from 1988 to 2017 these increased rainfall rates accounted for 1/3 of the flood damages around the United States. On its own, this would total up to be at least 73 billion dollars. 

Across the nation, 90% of the 150 sites surveyed showed an increase in rainfall intensity. 63% of these had increases of 10% or greater. 

A map of the results can be seen below. 

Credit: Climate Central
Rainfall intensity increase around the United States from 1970 through 2021.

The top 10 cities by percent increase included both dry and wet climates. These cities also span the entirety of the country. 

Credit: Climate Central/Michael Behrens
Top 10 U.S. cities by percentage of rainfall intensity rises.

In Grand Rapids the increase in rainfall intensity was more moderate, coming in at just a 6.3% rise since 1970, but we have seen a marked rise in the wettest day each year. This has gone from just over 2 inches in 1950 to near 2.75 inches on average by 2021. 

Credit: Climate Central
Change in the wettest day each year since 1950.

The reason behind all of these rainfall rises goes back to our warming temperatures. Warmer air not only facilitates increased rates of evaporation, but also has the physical capacity to hold more water vapor. This means rainfall can be heavier both in total and in intensity when that water has to all come back down to earth. 

Credit: Climate Central
How warmer air leads to heavier rainfall.

The major concern with these rises in rainfall intensities is a subsequent increased risk for flash flooding as a result. These floods can cause damage to homes, crops, watersheds, human health, and the economy as a whole. 

This is yet another reason to do all we can to help control and limit the impacts of human causes of climate change. The impacts of our changing climate are not in some distant future, but here today, and something that will continue to impact all levels of society as time goes on. 

-- Meteorologist Michael Behrens

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Email me at: MBehrens@13OnYourSide.com

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