Climate experts warn that heavy downpours, such as those that flooded large areas of Louisiana, West Virginia and Houston, Texas, could occur at a faster and more devastating rate in the coming decades as a direct result of severe changes in the world's climate.
In a study featured in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research said the United States could experience a 400-percent increase in extreme rainfall risks by the end of the 21st century, with each individual downpour potentially rising in intensity by as much as 70 percent in certain areas of the country.
This means that storms that would typically bring in about 2 inches of rainfall these days could pour as much as 3.5 inches in the future.
"Think about the most intense thunderstorm last summer," lead author Andreas Prein explained. "In the future climate in some places in the United States, you'll get as many as five of those [each season]."
Prein added that this trend follows the increasing severity and frequency of storms that other climate researchers have observed in the past five decades. There is also reason to believe that this pattern will continue over the next few years.
More Frequent And More Powerful Storms Across The U.S.
Scientists have long suspected that climate change could lead to a significant increase in the amount of rainfall that storms bring in. A warmer atmosphere can accumulate more water during the process of condensation, which in turn results in a heavier downpour.
To find out how changes in the atmosphere can affect precipitation in years to come, Prein and his colleagues collected climate trends from 2000 to 2013 and then ran them through a modeling software at extremely high resolutions.
The team discovered that the number of summertime storms capable of producing extreme precipitation could increase across the United States. Midwest states, such as Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and the Dakotas, could experience an increase of about zero to 100 percent, while others could see an increase of about 200 to 400 percent.
The intensity of severe rainfall events over the country is also expected to increase significantly. Northeast and Southwest states, in particular, could suffer more than a 70-percent jump in extreme downpour intensity.
While these findings can be considered accurate based on the climate trends used, Prein admitted that their study still has limitations such as not being able to account slowing rates of global warming and other uncertainties. He said the simulations they used showed only one realization of what could happen in the future.
To avoid such climate scenarios, Prein said it is important to retard the impacts of global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Keeping the atmosphere from becoming warmer would help limit the accumulation of water in the air and prevent extreme precipitations from occurring.
If in case the rate of climate change is not slowed down, the researchers believe that communities would then have to resort to creating better stormwater infrastructure, such as larger drainage systems, in order to limit the devastation of super-rainstorms.