Disasters like Louisiana floods will worsen as planet warms, scientists warn

August 16th, 2016  |  Source: The Guardian

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to classify disaster as the eighth flood considered to be a once-in-every-500-years event in the US in a year

The historic and devastating floods in Louisiana are the latest in a series of heavy deluges that some climate scientists warn will become even more common as the world continues to warm.

On Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) is set to classify the Louisiana disaster as the eighth flood considered to be a once-in-every-500-years event to have taken place in the US in little over 12 months.

Since May of last year, dozens of people have been killed and thousands of homes have been swamped with water in extreme events in Oklahoma, Texas, South Carolina, West Virginia and Maryland. Noaa considers these floods extreme because, based on historical rainfall records, they should be expected to occur only once every 500 years.

The Louisiana flooding has been so exceptional that some places in the state experienced storm conditions considered once-every-1,000-year events. Close to 2ft of rain fell over a 48-hour period in parts of southern Louisiana, causing residents to scramble to safety from flooded homes and cars.

At least six people have died, with another 20,000 people having to be rescued. Even Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards had to evacuate after his governor’s mansion in Baton Rouge was swamped with chest-high water. A federal state of emergency has been declared, with 12,000 people crowding into shelters.

The National Weather Service balloon released in New Orleans on Friday showed near-record levels of atmospheric moisture, prompting the service to state: “We are in record territory.” Climate scientists have warned that the build-up of moisture in the atmosphere, driven by warming temperatures, is likely to cause a greater number of floods in the future.

“We have been on an upward trend in terms of heavy rainfall events over the past two decades, which is likely related to the amount of water vapor going up in the atmosphere,” said Dr Kenneth Kunkel, of the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites.

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