How climate change could explain rise in rainfall

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — As the East continues to grapple with another major flood, climate science suggests floods like these may be more common in the future.

“It’s pretty well established through observational and modeling studies that as the earth warms, there will be more precipitation worldwide,” said Tom Rickenbach, an atmospheric science professor at East Carolina University.

It’s a simple premise. As the earth warms, more water evaporates into the air. An increase in water vapor means more moisture for an area of low pressure to potentially tap into.

“The expectation is that places that rain a lot, like our region does, will rain more and places that don’t rain as much, say like the western United States, will probably rain less,” Rickenbach said.

A warmer earth can also have an impact on the jet stream — a steering current for these storm systems.

“If it gets warmer in the Arctic region, it makes the jet stream move a little more slowly, and it makes it meander more,” Rickenbach said. “It makes it migrate from north to south more in a wavier pattern.”
According to the group Climate Central, the southeast U.S. has seen a 27-percent increase in heavy rainfall events since the 1950s. Rickenbach also points out that: “We’ve had systems like that in the past. We’ll have systems like that again in the future that you’ll get a little more water out of them. And so, on average, you’ll have a little higher frequency of larger flooding impacts with a given weather system.”

It is important to note that this specific flood has not been tied directly to climate change, although that is a possibility once experts go back and take a look at it.

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