This week’s flooding in Vermont, in which heavy rainfall caused destruction even miles from any river, is evidence of an especially dangerous climate threat: Catastrophic flooding can increasingly happen anywhere, with almost no warning.
And the United States, experts warn, is nowhere close to ready for that threat.
The idea that anywhere it can rain, it can flood, is not new. But rising temperatures make the problem worse: They allow the air to hold more moisture, leading to more intense and sudden rainfall, seemingly out of nowhere. And the implications of that shift are enormous.
“It’s getting harder and harder to adapt to these changing conditions,” said Rachel Cleetus, policy director for the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It’s just everywhere, all the time.”
The federal government is already struggling to prepare American communities for severe flooding, by funding better storm drains and pumps, building levees and sea walls and elevating roads and other basic infrastructure. As seas rise and storms get worse, the most flood-prone parts of the country — places like New Orleans, Miami, Houston, Charleston or even areas of New York City — could easily consume the government’s entire budget for climate resilience, without solving the problem for any of them.
Federal flood maps, which governments use as a guide to determine where to build housing and infrastructure, are supposed to be updated regularly. But they often fail to capture the full risk — the result of a lack of resources, but also sometimes pushback from local officials who don’t want new limits on development.
And as the flooding in Vermont demonstrates, the government can’t focus its resilience efforts only on the obvious areas, near coasts or rivers.
But the country lacks a comprehensive, current, national precipitation database that could help inform homeowners, communities and the government about the rising risks from heavy rains. [Continue reading…]