Opinion/Solutions: Deadly floods are wreaking global havoc

Credit: Bloomberg

Credit: Bloomberg

Torrential downpours claimed the lives of more than 1,000 in Pakistan, where almost half a million people are in relief camps.

A massive deluge crashed across Mississippi, leaving the roughly 150,000 residents of capital city Jackson without reliable access to clean drinking water.

And cascades of rain recently poured into Seoul’s subway stations and turned streets into rivers in one of the worst storms in more than a century.

The world has been swept by a series of deadly floods in recent weeks, destroying homes, inundating croplands and wreaking economic devastation.

In a paradoxical turn, the torrents have come at a time when the planet is also besieged by crippling drought and dwindling rivers.

While it seems to defy logic, the mechanics of the atmosphere make it possible for record-shattering floods to occur alongside widespread heat waves and drought.

It’s not unknowable chaos, but rather the impact of accelerating climate change.

“As the air and oceans warm under a thicker blanket of greenhouse gases, more water vapor evaporates into the air, providing more moisture to fuel thunderstorms, hurricanes, nor’easters and monsoons,” said Jennifer Francis, a senior scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts. “Heavier downpours and more frequent flooding are clear fingerprints of the climate crisis.”

The droughts and floods are connected.

Just weeks ago, China’s Sichuan province was in the grips of an historic drought that caused major power shortages and disrupted business for companies including Toyota Motor Corp. Now, the southwestern province, one of the country’s most populous, is being hit by floods.

In places like Colorado, where capital city Denver recently saw daily record rainfall, the showers aren’t undoing the deeper impact of the prolonged drought pattern that has gripped the western United States.

But it can be enough to spark flash floods, cancel flights and put homes, property and life at risk.

In New Mexico, about 200 people at a national park were recently trapped for several hours during a downpour.

Other places, including parts of Australia, are seeing a broader shift to a pattern of deluges. At the start of 2022, a relentless stream of storms caused massive flooding across the southeastern part of the continent. In a three-month outlook, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology predicts more flooding is in store.

In Pakistan, the extra moisture in the atmosphere gave the annual monsoon more power.

That coupled with a rapid melt from regional glaciers “made a bad flood even worse,” said Francis of the Woodwell Climate Research Center.

Of course, flooding has impacted civilization since its start. But now the extremes are occurring more frequently, and they’ve grown in power.

“Unless we treat the underlying disease — the blanket of greenhouse gases thickened by burning fossil fuels and slashing forests” Francis said, “events like these will happen more often.”