How Climate Change May Affect Inland Flooding
Updated: Nov 8, 2021
Inland flooding has long been one of the most significant weather-related threats facing communities in the United States. Between 1970 and 1999, inland flooding (flooding that occurs away from the coast) was responsible for more deaths than storm surge, winds, or tornadoes in the continental U.S., according to the National Hurricane Center.
In recent years inland flood dangers have worsened due to the long-term effects of climate change. Though we cannot connect any one weather event to climate change, experts believe it is having an overall impact on severe weather in the U.S. Here’s what we’ve learned.
Rising water temperatures have led to faster storm formation, often leaving little time for communities to prepare for winds and heavy rains. Warmer temperatures also increase evaporation and produce an atmosphere that can better hold moisture. This has led to a growing number of extreme rainfall events, and has proven to have a significant impact on inland flooding.
The Midwest floods of 2019 directly impacted around 14 million people and placed 200 million at risk. It is believed that the flood damage was heightened by climate change as rising temperatures caused significantly greater and more intense precipitation in the Midwest. Because of the increased precipitation, the ground struggled to absorb water during the winter and snowmelt rapidly accumulated with nowhere to runoff to. By the time spring came around, the heavy rainfall and snowmelt had created disastrous conditions for inland flooding.
Hurricane Harvey provides another example of the long-term effects of climate change on inland flooding. The storm dropped a record-breaking 70 inches of rain in southeastern Texas, causing widespread and severe flood-related damage. Scientists found that the effects of climate change made the record rainfall in Houston nearly three times more likely and between 15 to 38 percent more intense.
Climate change may very well be increasing the threat of inland flooding. To prepare for this risk, it's important that homeowners work with a flood specialist to review possible flood exposure as well as flood insurance options. With heavy rainfall more frequent than ever before, the risk of inland flooding is high and steadily rising. Now is the time to prepare.