Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Get used to the downpours

Posted By on Tue, Jul 29, 2014 at 10:14 AM

Rochester has had a pretty wet July. Going by National Weather Service records, the area has had 7.51 inches of rain this month through yesterday, when the normal level is 3.11 inches.

And yesterday's intense rains broke the daily record: the 2.42 inches measured by the NWS at the Rochester airport topped the 1966 high water mark of 1.94 inches. Outside of the city, some areas received much more rain: Richmond Fire Chief Ken Adami told the Democrat and Chronicle that the town, which suffered substantial flood damage, received 7 inches.

It's worth looking at the storm through the lens of climate change, with the caveat that it's difficult to tie individual weather events to climate change. It's more about long-term shifts in weather patterns, driven by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. 

But climate scientists say that the Rochester region and much of the Northeast will experience extreme precipitation events — downpours and heavy snowstorms, for example — more often, and they will be more intense. The US government's 2014 National Climate Assessment says that the Northeast states have already seen a 70 percent increase in precipitation from the heaviest 1 percent of storms.
And yesterday, the Rochester region got a glimpse of what this trend will mean: flooding. And not just creeks spilling over their banks a little bit; whole sections of road were washed away in several places.

The May flood in Penn Yan also shows what we're up against. The village was hit with between 5 inches and 9 inches of rain in one evening, says a story from the Finger Lakes Times. Flooding from Jacob's Brook was so bad that it collapsed a community center and a parking lot.

Rain is a natural force and there's nothing humans can do to stop it, but we can adapt to the changing patterns. Communities can limit development in floodplains. Governments can build better culverts so roads don't wash out, and they can install higher capacity storm water drains so that roads (and neighbors' basements) don't flood. These are just a few examples — plenty of high-caliber reports and studies lay out more thorough recommendations.

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