When It Rains, It Pours

Environment Colorado

Scientists have said for years that global warming was “loading the dice” when it comes to increasing the frequency of severe storms, and a new Environment Colorado report makes it clear that Colorado and the Mountain West is already experiencing extreme downpours and heavy snowstorms much more frequently.  Specifically, the new report found that storms with heavy rainfall or snow are up 30 percent in Colorado and 25 percent across the Mountain West compared to 60 years ago.

“At the rate we’re going, what was once the storm of the decade will soon seem like just another downpour,” said Keith Hay, Energy Advocate at Environment Colorado 

Hay pointed to the rainstorm that hit Denver in March of 2003 as an illustration of what more extreme rainstorms could mean for the region.  That storm dumped over 5 inches on the area. “More frequent downpours, fueled by global warming, will hurt Colorado’s water quality and leave Colorado even more vulnerable to dangerous flooding in years to come,” said Keith Hay.

The new Environment Colorado report, When it Rains, It Pours: Global Warming and the Rising Frequency of Extreme Precipitation in the United States, examines trends in the frequency of large rain and snow events across the continental United States from 1948 to 2006.  Using data from 3,000 weather stations and a methodology originally developed by scientists at the National Climatic Data Center and the Illinois State Water Survey, the report identifies storms with the greatest 24-hour precipitation totals at each weather station, and analyzes when those storms occurred.

Nationally, the report shows that storms with extreme precipitation have increased in frequency by 24 percent across the continental United States since 1948.  At the state level, 40 states show a significant trend toward more frequent storms with extreme precipitation, while only one state, Oregon, shows a significant decline. 

Key findings for the Mountain West and Colorado include:

  • Storms with extreme precipitation increased in frequency by 25 percent in Mountain West from 1948 to 2006. 
  • Colorado experienced a 30 percent increase in extreme rainstorms during the period studied.
  • In addition, Grand Junction shows a significant increase in the frequency of large storms with heavy precipitation, roughly estimated to be a 53 percent increase over the nearly 60-year period.

These findings are consistent with the predicted impacts of global warming.  Scientists expect some parts of the United States to receive more precipitation as a result of global warming, while other parts receive less.  But regardless of the trend in total precipitation, scientists predict that the rain and snow that does fall will be more likely to come in big downpours and heavy snowstorms.

Hay was careful to note that an increase in the frequency of extreme rainstorms does not mean more water will be available.  Scientists expect that as global warming intensifies longer periods of relative dryness will mark the periods between extreme rainstorms, increasing the risk of drought.  For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that, under a scenario of intense warming, the percent of land enduring severe drought globally could be 30 times greater by the end of the century than it is today.

“How serious this problem gets is largely within our control – but only if we act boldly to reduce the pollution that fuels global warming,” said Hay

According to the most recent science, the United States must reduce its total global warming emissions by at least 15 percent by 2020 and by at least 80 percent by 2050 in order to prevent the worst effects of global warming. 

“Steep reductions in global warming pollution are challenging but achievable,” noted Hay, “and we already have the energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies we need to get started.”

Today, the U.S. Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee is expected to vote on amendments to the “Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2007” (S. 2191), a global warming bill introduced by Senators Lieberman (I-CT) and Warner (R-VA).  While recognizing the important efforts of the bill’s supporters on this critical issue, Environment Colorado said that the legislation must be significantly strengthened to address the challenge of global warming.  Specifically, the bill’s current pollution reduction targets fall short of what the science says is necessary to avoid the worst effects of global warming, and the bill gives away far too many subsidies to dirty and dangerous energy sources.

“In addition to calling for a strengthening of the “Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2007”, U.S. Senators Ken Salazar and Wayne Allard should cosponsor the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act – the only legislation in Congress that would reduce pollution fast enough to protect future generations from the worst effects of global warming,” concluded Hay.

When-It-Rains-It-Pours---CO.pdf When-It-Rains-It-Pours—CO.pdf