Is nature doing what the climate models predict?
As temperatures rise with global warming, climate theory says the atmosphere will hold more moisture, wet parts of the globe will grow wetter and extreme floods and droughts will become more frequent.
A panel of National Research Council scientists examined weather data from the past century to see if nature is so far behaving accordingly. Their findings: yes and no.
There are more episodes of extreme precipitation, and much of the eastern and central U.S. has grown wetter, according to a council report released Wednesday. At the same time, parts of the West and East have experienced more drought.
But the uptick in severe flooding has yet to materialize, according to analyses of U.S. Geological Survey long-term streamflow records. More intense rainfall hasn't translated into higher peak river flows, which are also influenced by topography.
Flood risk in the U.S. is nonetheless greater, said University of Arizona hydrology professor Victor Baker, a member of the scientific committee that conducted the review. More building and development in flood hazard areas, such as the Sacramento region, have increased the potential for destruction.
“The U.S. is poised for a really big flood disaster,” he said.
-- Bettina Boxall
Photo: Stranded cars in Staten Island, N.Y., after a heavy rainfall this month. Credit: Jillian Jorgensen / Associated Press