Climate change is turning snow to rain and raising risk of floods

Climate change is turning snow to rain and raising risk of floods

Rain falling as an alternative of snow could have contributed to flooding in California earlier this 12 months

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg through Getty Photographs

A shift from snow to rain because of local weather change is making excessive rainfall and flooding extra extreme in lots of components of the world dominated by snow.

“We already know world warming will increase complete precipitation,” says Mohammed Ombadi on the Lawrence Berkeley Nationwide Laboratory in California. The environment can maintain about 7 per cent extra water vapour for every diploma Celsius of warming.

Hotter temperatures are additionally recognized to trigger extra snow to fall as rain. Nevertheless, it wasn’t clear how this shift from snow to rain contributed to the intense rainfall occasions that drive flooding and erosion, that are key elements for designing infrastructure.

Ombadi and his colleagues checked out climate information for the northern hemisphere from 1950 to 2019 to know patterns of maximum precipitation. Additionally they used local weather fashions to undertaking these patterns underneath totally different emissions situations.

In snowy locations such because the Himalayas, the Alps and the Sierra Nevada within the US, they discovered the depth of maximum rainfall elevated by a mean of 15 per cent for every diploma Celsius of warming, greater than twice the worldwide common enhance. Primarily based on historic information and on modelling, they discovered that the shift from snow to rain is the principle issue behind the elevated extremes.

“We’re already seeing that within the information,” says Ombadi. He factors to the flooding in California this 12 months and the devastating floods in Pakistan in 2022 as examples the place extra rain within the mountains could have performed a task in flooding downstream.

Frances Davenport at Colorado State College says her analysis has discovered rain-driven floods in some areas had been greater than twice as giant as floods pushed by snow that melted on the bottom, although the hyperlink between rainfall and flood threat is complicated. “We’re nonetheless in a local weather the place we get each snow and rain, and the fraction can range loads,” she says.

Jouni Räisänen on the College of Helsinki in Finland provides that the impact may seem much less pronounced if considered in proportion to native will increase in temperature, relatively than world averages, because the temperature rises over land are typically greater. However he expects extra excessive rainfall in any case. “This makes excellent sense to me,” he says.


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