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Super-Charged Clouds Are Dumping Rain and Snow on the U.S.

The rain may be over (for now), but the flood risk has yet to peak.

Snow in Iowa.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

A surface cyclone dumped rain on the Northeast overnight, leaving millions of people under flood warnings. Streets were submerged in cities including Annapolis and Baltimore, Maryland; and Alexandria, Virginia. Washington, D.C. broke its daily rain record early Tuesday evening. The storm is also blasting states with strong wind gusts, and at least 15 tornadoes were reported in the South. More than 600,000 homes remain without power, most of those on the East Coast.

The rain is tapering off, but the worst may be yet to come. As National Weather Service meteorologist Patrick Wilson told The New York Times: “The worst time for flooding is right after the rain stops.” It takes time for the water dumped by a storm to travel down from mountains and make its way into smaller streams and rivers, Wilson said. But when it does, those waterways can flood.

The National Weather Service says moderate to major river flooding could inundate parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast through Thursday. High water levels combined with wind gusts that could exceed 60 mph increase the chances of coastal flooding.

To make matters worse, there’s another storm on the way. The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for the Cascade and Olympic mountains, the first such warning in over a decade. That system will make its way east and is expected to “intensify explosively” by the weekend, bringing blizzard conditions to the Midwest, severe storms to the South, and more flooding to the East Coast.

“Much below normal temperatures along with gusty winds will lead to wind chills well below zero for many locations,” the NWS Weather Prediction Center tweeted. The cold snap will linger into next week, and more than 80% of the country could see below-freezing temperatures by Tuesday, Axios reported.

Isn’t climate change making winters warmer? Yes, the trend over time is for warmer winter temperatures with less snowfall. But “‘less cold’ does not mean ‘never cold,’” explains the Climate Reality Project. And when winter storms do hit, they’re likely to be more intense as global temperatures rise.

As Dr. Jennifer Francis, a senior scientist with the Woodwell Climate Research Center, explained to the Union of Concerned Scientists last year, warmer temperatures give weather systems “more fuel to work with in the form of water vapor and heat, more moisture, and as a result, these storms are dumping more precipitation.”

Jessica  Hullinger profile image

Jessica Hullinger

Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London.


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