Cloudy With A Chance Of Flooding

BY ON October 8, 2013

flooded street with warning sign that reads "flood"

As a biologist and a mom, I don’t take the ecosystem for granted. It’s a delicate balance, and I remind friends and family that we cannot pollute the air around us and expect to outlive the consequences. We will suffer. Our children will suffer.

In the last decade and a half, the number of heavy precipitation events have increased by 30 percent. The rising temperature on the Earth’s surface contributes to an increase in disease. As the climate on Earth changes, the atmosphere gets hotter and holds more water vapor. The increase in the water vapor leads to  intense downpours that result in flooding.

If history continues in this manner, temperatures will keep rising and the number of extreme weather events will continue to put our economy, our health and our livelihood at risk.

Remember soot? Air pollution? Particulates? These tiny particles (solid or liquid) are suspended in our air. They are called aerosols and are the result of the combustion of fossil fuels, industrial or agricultural processes, and the burning of fields and forests. If you’ve read the Moms Clean Air Force blog, you’d understand the direct impact these aerosol particulates have on our children’s health. But here’s what you may not know: the aerosol particles can either reflect the sun’s light back into space or absorb the solar radiation. Through these interactions, we found these minute particles impact chemical interactions within the cloud formations that actually have a hand in the intensity of our rains.

Clean Air Clouds vs. Polluted Air Clouds

In cleaner air, clouds form rain droplets that collide and form larger droplets before they precipitate. In polluted air, the droplets are too small so they are not released immediately. As the rain builds up in the clouds, it freezes and can cause ice or hail. As these clouds are freezing, energy also builds up within the height of the cloud that releases the torrential rains. In areas where the air is heavily polluted, rain clouds don’t build up enough rain and a drought can occur. Once drought season is relieved, it is often followed by heavy rains and subsequent flooding.

Flood Risks

There are the obvious risks — drowning, lost of property, and property damage. What we often forget is that while floodwaters may have receded, the air can still be unclear.

When it comes to rebuilding after a flood, there are three major categories of risk that need to be taken into consideration:

  • Safety while driving: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) addresses this in their campaign, Turn Around, Don’t Drown.
  • The remaining water: Municipal drinking water plants, wells and sewers can be overwhelmed during extreme downpours. This can result in raw sewage backing up into people’s homes, and street contaminants (gasoline, motor oil, etc.), pesticides and refuse flowing into local water sources.
  • Mold: Anywhere water has seeped into a building and then remained stagnant, even for a short period of time, toxic mold builds up. The health hazards of mold are provided the perfect environment to grow in ceilings, flooring, walls and insulation during intense rain events.

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TOPICS: Heat and Extreme Weather, Soot