Fires and Floods: Climate Change at Work

Flooding in Kentucky

From hurricanes to flash floods, wildfires to droughts, the U.S. is in a state of climate disarray. If dealing with unprecedented floods wasn’t enough, Kentucky is being warned of additional thunderstorms and floods – on top of extreme heat advisories. Meanwhile, across the country, California is seeing the state’s largest wildfire of the year. In yet another part of California, unprecedented rainfall led to substantial flooding, trapping nearly 1,000 people in Death Valley National Park. The country is both on fire and under water!

But these freakish climate events are no longer freaky at all – they are to be expected in a rapidly changing climate. So based on our current trajectory (which is not to say it can’t be changed!), the only logical outcome is more extreme weather.

Here’s why:

Rising temperatures cause warmer air, which is able to hold in more moisture. This causes an increase in intensity and frequency of heavy rain events, which in turn leads to a higher risk of dangerous flooding. So because of global warming, when it rains, it pours. And in places without the natural or manmade infrastructure to absorb heavy rainfall, flash flooding is inevitable.

At the same time, higher temperatures evaporate moisture from the ground, drying up lakes and rivers. The lack of moisture also makes soil and vegetation more flammable. So when a fire sparks (whether by the sun’s heat, lightning, or more likely, human cause), it spreads.

To make matters worse, landscapes recently afflicted by fire are at higher susceptibility to flooding for years to come. This is because when fire ravages an area, the top layer of soil can actually become water repellant. So while rainwater is normally absorbed in the ground, after a fire, rainwater will simply roll off, like water on pavement. Due to this, it takes far less rainfall to cause a flash flood.

So logically, if we do nothing to stop climate change, we can only expect more fires and floods – and the death that accompanies them. But if we use the resources of this society to stop climate change and steer our world on a different course, the possibilities for preserving our climate are limitless. If we can explore galaxies light-years away, we can come up with the solutions for saving our planet!