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How Warmer Weather Worsens Flash Floods

Global warming has proven to induce extreme weather of all kinds. For some areas of the world, this means heatwaves and wildfires. For other areas, this means flash floods and winter storms. For everyone, this is a wake-up call.

Published on: September 08, 2021

As confirmed by scientists in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Climate Report, we are living in a volatile climate, unprecedented by thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years.

For many people around the world, this means extreme weather is impacting their lives more than ever before. For many people in places like Germany, India, New York, London, and China, that meant a summer of deadly downpours. For historically vulnerable areas such as Louisiana, this meant Hurricane Ida’s landfall, which escalated quickly and suddenly and resulted in nearly 50 deaths and immeasurable devastation across several states.

While it’s easier to connect global warming with deadly heat waves and droughts, it can be difficult to wrap your head around this idea that global warming also plays a significant role in the polar opposite, extreme floods. How can an average rise in global temperature be the cause of so many different things — from downpours to droughts, wildfires to winter storms?

The reality is, the planet's systems are intricate and delicate, and widespread disruptions to these systems result in catastrophic symptoms: extreme weather of any and all kinds.

In tandem with the IPCC’s Red Flag Report, this summer of floods should serve as the ultimate wake-up call to get us all to stop trying to “prevent” the climate crisis. These floods are a reminder that the climate crisis is here and now, and we must begin to reverse it — immediately.

Significant Summer Floods

Here’s a bird’s-eye view into the devastation that rolled in with the rain across the globe — in July and August alone.

  • China: In mid-July, a downpour in Zhengzhou unleashed roughly one year's worth of rain on the city in 72 hours. This deadly downpour resulted in over 300 deaths, displaced over one million residents, and caused an economic loss of nearly $10 billion for the city.
  • Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands: In Western Europe, July floods wiped out entire villages and claimed the lives of at least 200 people. Parts of these countries faced two months’ worth of torrential rainfall in two days, leaving behind sinkholes, overflowing rivers, and overturned historical buildings.
  • India: Record-breaking monsoons submerged entire cities in the Mumbai region in mid-July, resulting in over 125 deaths. Mahabaleshwar, a forest area south of Mumbai, recorded 60 centimeters (over 23 inches) of rainfall in just 24 hours.
  • London: On July 12, the British capital experienced about a month’s worth of rainfall in a single day. These flash floods paralyzed city streets while forcing parts of the underground tube system to close.
  • New York City: In early July, New York faced one of the top 10 most intense hourly cloud bursts in the past 80 years. With over an inch and a half of rain in one hour, flash floods battered the city and gushed through subway stations.
  • Louisiana, Mississippi, and the Northeast: Over the last few days of August, Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana, bringing 150-mph winds, torrential rain, and seven feet of storm surge. As the storm continued its path, it flooded states such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, and Connecticut with up to nine inches of rain — resulting in nearly 50 deaths and unfathomable destruction.

It’s important to note that many of these regions had never experienced extreme weather events like these before this summer  — all the more reason to understand the science behind their behavior and make an effort to better prepare for the future.

The Link Between Floods and Rising Temperatures.

The reality is that severe weather events such as the floods listed above have been predicted by climate scientists for decades. We’ve all been warned about the effects of rising temperatures — in some areas, this means droughts and wildfires, and in other areas, this means trapped moisture in the atmosphere.

These events are proof of their predictions and an alarming wake-up call for us all.

According to the IPCC’s recent report, the average global temperature has increased by at least 1.1°C since pre-industrial levels. This means that devastating downpours that used to happen every 10 years now happen 30% more frequently.

Why is that?

With warmer air, more moisture evaporates from the earth’s surface (land and water) into the atmosphere. Because there’s more air in the atmosphere, we can expect more sheer amounts of precipitation.

Now, why do some areas experience torrential downpours while others experience devastating droughts?

The extra precipitation mentioned above does not span evenly across the globe. This is because climate change also causes shifts in the planet’s air and ocean currents, affecting weather patterns in various regions. Generally speaking, climate scientists predict that precipitation will increase in areas with higher latitudes. Northern areas will become wetter, while southern areas (closer to the Equator) will become drier.

How to Help

As depicted in the devastating experiences this summer, flash floods can come with absolutely no warning. That’s why it’s essential to focus on flood prevention just as much as we focus on flood recovery. Of course, this looks different from the unique perspectives of individuals, industries, and governments. But it’s important that we all have a general, practical understanding of the necessary systems and resources, so our homes and cities are better prepared to withstand these sudden downpours.

Protect your city.
What does it look like to protect a city from a deluge?

  • Emergency alert systems must be in place to warn citizens of potential flash floods and allow time for evacuation.
  • Natural flood management systems utilize small measures to reduce water flow before it reaches larger bodies of water. Specific systems include embankments, ditches and fields with barriers, sustainable drainage systems, and more. It’s important to discuss these methods in city meetings.
  • Temporary physical barriers can be used to fortify natural flood management systems. These barriers can include frame barriers and sectional barriers that protect flood-prone areas (near rivers, dams, and other bodies of water).

It’s important to note that many of these efforts require long-term advocating, funding, and planning. These are not quick fixes, just like there is no quick fix for climate change.

Protect Your Home

Know your risk by looking at flood maps. The good news is, if you already reside in a flood-prone area, your house should be up to code. This should include the proper structural reinforcement for your area. If it makes sense, consider flood insurance, as the July flooding in Henan, China resulted in record-breaking insurance claims, totaling nearly $2 billion

At 1 Hotels, we prioritize protecting our sustainable sanctuaries, your homes away from home. We accomplish this in many ways, including (but not limited to) prioritizing sustainability at every stage of development, following strict building codes, and innovating unique systems such as water reclamation and efficient irrigation methods on our rooftops. By utilizing intentional, innovative designs, we’re also protecting the cities that surround our sanctuaries, reinforcing sound infrastructure choices for our surrounding cities, and setting an example for old and new businesses that bloom in these areas. And we will continue to challenge ourselves to press for the most sustainable hotel operations possible. 

Protect yourself.

There are so many different actions you can take to prepare for sudden flooding, some of which we’ve outlined below.

  • First, be sure to sign up for Emergency Alert Systems in your area.
  • Prepare a plan. This may involve stocking up on non-perishable foods, having a water supply at a high elevation, solidifying your evacuation plan, and knowing where you can seek shelter. It’s important to discuss the specifics with your family and outside support systems before a disaster strikes.
  • It’s important to understand the risks of a flood, in case you ever find yourself in the midst of one. It’s critical to remember not to approach running water. A good way to remember this is the phrase, “Turn around, don’t drown.”
  • In addition, be aware of some of the lesser-known risks of floods, including contaminated water, electrocution, and difficulty breathing as a result of mold growth.

To find more suggestions in your area, visit the website of your local and/or national emergency management authorities and Red Cross.

Every Effort Counts

Your specific call(s) to action will depend on your individual role as a concerned citizen, business owner, or government official. Whether that looks like holding your officials accountable via outreach and advocating, voting with your dollars by supporting businesses that align with your values, amplifying the voices of vulnerable communities who are systemically silenced, or running for office yourself — every single action matters.

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