Crazy Weather Heightens Flood Worries, Risks

Written by Lisa Hayden on . Posted in Extreme weather, Learn

After a winter for the record books, the great spring thaw is underway.

In its spring flood outlook, the National Weather Service reports that a large swath of the nation’s mid-section is at risk of moderate to major flooding over the next month. The zone of greatest flood risk from snow-covered, water-saturated ground ranges from northeastern Montana, along the Mississippi River as far south as St. Louis.

In New England, also with an above average flood risk this spring, worries have shifted from snow-laden rooftops in February to leaky basements in March.

The roofs of dozens of buildings – from barns to warehouses to schools – collapsed with the accumulated weight of successive snow storms in January. Now that much of that snow has melted into streams, a few rivers flowed over their banks after the first significant rain storm.

And so, the sump pump in my central Massachusetts basement is working overtime to keep ahead of the rising water table. It’s going off every few minutes as we glance nervously at the remaining mounds of snow circling our driveway and wonder whether we were just a bit too cocky to replace basement carpeting after a new, improved pump was installed two years ago.

How many seasons of unusually high water could there be, we reasoned? Not unlike the engineers who design flood gates, sea walls and levees, we hope we calculated a high enough margin of error to protect our property against whatever nature (perhaps intensified by our own carbon emissions) may throw at us next.

Now with the rivers running fast and high, water has again, this year, inundated the road and bridge leading to the local fishing area, not to mention the state park beach and picnic area at the headwaters of the nearby Quinebaug River. The Army Corps of Engineers dam is strategically releasing as much water as it can while trying to avoid flooding downstream.

Other rivers in Middlesex, Worcester, Hampden and Suffolk counties have been on flood watches, while there has been localized flooding in Connecticut.

So does this season’s flooding have the fingerprints of climate change on it? As always, it’s hard to definitively tie any particular weather event to broader climate change without much more research. We do know that climate models indicate an increased frequency of flooding events in some regions as global carbon pollution rises.

Will a routine of weather extremes become the norm? It certainly seems like the past few years have been full of crazy weather here in my neighborhood: high winds, downed power lines, heavy downpours, intense thunder storms and peanut-sized hail.

Now we can only hope April’s showers will be kind and gentle to our basement.

Flood forecasts from the National Weather Center, a division of NOAA, can help people to lessen damage by preparing in advance for high water. To determine whether your community is in a flood-risk area, check out http://water.weather.gov where you can monitor local flood conditions.

Lisa Hayden is climate change writer for The Nature Conservancy

Photo by: Lisa Hayden (A road leading to a bridge frequented by fishermen in Sturbridge, Massachusetts is covered with flood waters.)

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Planet Change is a Nature Conservancy blog site designed to share stories about actions the Conservancy and others around the world are taking to fight carbon pollution and the impacts of climate change, and to help people feel the connections between climate change and their daily lives and understand actions they can take.

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