Study: Northeast seeing more, fiercer rainstorms

Study: Northeast seeing more, fiercer rainstorms (AP)
In this March 30, 2010 file photo, West Warwick, R.I., firefighters evacuate residents from their flooded houses near the Pawtuxet River. The Northeast is seeing more frequent "extreme precipitation events" in line with global warming predictions, a study released Monday, April 5, 2010 shows, including storms like the recent fierce rains whose floodwaters swallowed neighborhoods and businesses across New England. (AP Photo/Stew Milne, File)

(AP) -- The Northeast is seeing more frequent "extreme precipitation events" in line with global warming predictions, a study shows, including storms like the recent fierce rains whose floodwaters swallowed neighborhoods and businesses across New England.

The study does not link last week's devastating floods to its research but examined 60 years' worth of rainfall records in nine Northeastern states and found that storms that produce an inch or more of rain in a day - a threshold the recent far surpassed - are coming more frequently.

"It's almost like 1 inch of rainfall has become pretty common these days," said Bill Burtis, spokesman for Clean Air-Cool Planet, a education group that released the study Monday along with the University of New Hampshire's Carbon Solutions New England group.

The study's results are consistent with what could be expected in a world warmed by greenhouse gases, said UNH associate professor Cameron Wake. He acknowledged it would take more sophisticated studies to cement a warming link, though.

"I can't point to these recent storms and say, that is global warming," he said.

What is more certain, researchers said, is the potential economic impact should the 60-year trend continue and require billions of dollars in infrastructure improvements to things in the region including roads, bridges, sewers and culverts.

The study examined precipitation data from 219 Weather Service reporting stations in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont from 1948 to 2007.

The report found that in all but 18 of the stations, "extreme precipitation events," defined as storms that produced at least 1 inch of rain over a 24-hour period or the water equivalent of snow, are occurring at a more frequent rate.

Average annual precipitation in the region also increased, albeit slightly, by nearly three-quarters of an inch per decade over the 60-year period. That period included a marked drop-off in rainfall during the 1960s, when much of New England experienced drought, and again during a regional drought in 2001.

When it came to the really big storms - ones that produce 2 inches or even 4 inches in a 24-hour period - the study found those also occurring with more regularity than in the past.

As the world warms, Wake said, there is more energy to evaporate water, creating more water vapor in the air. That in turn can increase the number of storms and the amount of precipitation those storms produce, he said.

The ferocious March storms - Providence, R.I., and other cities set a monthly record for precipitation, while Boston experienced its second-rainiest month since record keeping began - seem out of whack even with the findings in the report.

"It's consistent, but it's way more than even the trends we've seen," he said. "It's anomalous for sure."

Global warming skeptic Patrick Michaels, a senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute, said it would be unfair to use the recent floods as an example of what's in the study.

"You can't take an individual event and say it's a product of a certain trend," Michaels said.

Previous studies have shown that New England's wettest days of the year are getting wetter over time, but there was no net change nationwide, raising doubt as to whether global warming is the culprit, Michaels said.

Whether warming is the cause or not, if rainstorms are getting fiercer, there will be a price to pay, some experts noted.

"If you're spending more on dealing with extreme weather events, what does that take away from?" said Ross Gittell, an economics professor at UNH and executive committee member of Carbon Solutions New England.

"Do you have to tax people more and that has a damper on the overall economy?" he said. "... Or does it take away from investments in education that could lead to more productivity and economic growth over time?"

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Apr 05, 2010
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Apr 06, 2010
Another junk study: what a waste of paper.

I wonder why on earth you believe that. Do you think the authors are lying? That the data is invalid? Or that more extreme rainstorms happening more often are irrelevant? I am struggling to understand why anyone would believe that any of these things are true without some sort of evidence. Or are you one of those people who believe any type of scientific study that doesn't confirm their own belief system is untrue?

Apr 06, 2010
I'm glad to see a more balanced view being reported by this website.
Not so long ago statements such as those made by Wake would have gone unchallenged, and no other view would have been presented.
I wouldn't bother with TegiriNenashi, Parsec.
He sounds like another JayK :-)).

Apr 06, 2010
This is a quantifiable study. It used large amounts of data to track trends. Do you not understand that, toyo? I know tegiriNugnug doesn't, he's just a denialist with a streak of dumb a mile wide.

Wake is right, though. This is short term quantifiable data, and requires a bit more before it can be said to be a long term trend that can be used to draw a conclusion about AGW. So what?

Apr 06, 2010
"I can't point to these recent storms and say, that is global warming," he [Cameron Wake] said.

'Nuff said...

Apr 06, 2010
Why I don't think the authors earned their 5 minutes of fame? Because nobody appears to bother validating/reproducing/refuting their claim. Every year thousands of "studies" are published ranging from alleged disappearance of yellow striped frog somewhere in forgotten amazon jungle to the harm of cell phone microwave radiation. If the stake is high enough (read cell phone industry), then, expect independent investigation. So, until we have have independent verification and statistic significance this is just an anecdotal evidence.

Apr 06, 2010
Here is the link TegiriNubNub:

Have at it, let us know when you're ready to publish your findings.

Apr 06, 2010
I am curious as to why they did not also take into account times previous to 1948 for the means. Oh wait, here is why:


Very interesting...

Apr 07, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Apr 07, 2010
Only 60 years under analysis? That won't even take into account the well-known "100 year flood plain" data, which clearly shows that the recent flooding in Rhode Island isn't an anomaly. Having lived there my whole life, I can vouch that it's always wet there. The recent floods were just a culmination of several events, mostly a heavy rain immediately following a heavy snow.

Rhode Island almost NEVER gets heavy snow

Apr 08, 2010
Actually, there are three values in this chart of the data. The overall mean value is given in violet.

The blue lines with asterisks are the actual values for each year with the red line being the filtered values giving a smoothed value for each period.

Both the date they started with and 1965 would bias the result, although I agree that 1965 would have made it worse to a degree. It would give somewhat a different result had they adopted criteria to use all of the available rainfall data.

Apr 11, 2010

Here is the bias. UNH wants more money from the government.
If the government stopped bailing out people who live in flood plains, they would move or pay their own insurance.

No, this is your bias speaking -loudly and clearly!

Saying that the government shouldn't spend money "bailing out" those people living on the floodplain is clear evidence of your intent to decontextualize this research, and manufacture a platform for your usual god, guns, and free market noise.

If you had ever experienced a severe storm(much less experienced any compassion), you would know that high winds and rain falling fast and furious has many more consequences than just flooding the "floodplain". It floods basements, it creates leaks, roofs get ripped off, homes are caved in by falling trees/branches, there are mudslides- and all can occur before the floodstage is reached.

Which begs the question:

In a storm, if a tree falls on marjon, will anyone hear it cry?

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