Meteorologists: yes, 1000-year rainfall events really are becoming more common

Slate meteorologist Eric Holthaus wrote in his email newsletter Monday:

If you think you’ve heard something like this before, you’re probably right. In fact, 1,000-year rainfall events are occurring frequently enough now that we can start to categorize them. There’s the “rapid onset” 1,000-year events, like what happened this weekend in Maryland and last month’s extreme rainfall in West Virginia, where river valleys are utterly transformed in just a few hours. There’s the “weekend deluge” 1,000-year events, like last October’s catastrophic rainstorm in South Carolina, in which an entire hurricane’s worth of rain was shunted toward the coast by a unique atmospheric pattern over a period of a few days. And there’s the “will it ever stop raining?” 1,000-year events, like last May in Oklahoma, where a good chunk of an entire year’s worth of rainfall fell.

Meanwhile, one of the “strongest monsoon seasons in years,” as the Guardian puts it, has hit over a million people in Asia with overwhelming floods, killing hundreds, as Common Dreams reported.

“What’s happening here is honestly very simple,” Holthaus wrote. “Our atmosphere is changing. We literally do not have the same sort of atmosphere as we did 20 or 100 years ago. A warmer atmosphere is able to hold more water vapor, and that means the heaviest rainstorms are getting more intense.”

With extreme weather events occurring with growing frequency around the world, Holthaus added: “It’s not just in your head. Things really are getting weirder.”

China flooding

July 2016 flooding in China

Video footage and photographs taken on Saturday evening showed dramatic scenes: One local, for example, filmed a group forming a human chain to rescue a woman from her stranded car as floodwaters raged around them. Photographs also emerged of cars floating down streets:

Flooding in Elliott Maryland

Passenger vehicles and trucks being washed down a street in the 1000 year flooding in Elliott, Maryland


And  stretches of Main Street had completely caved in as a result of the deluge:

flood_2 Maryland 2016

“It looks like the set of a disaster movie,” Kittleman told AP. “Cars everywhere, cars on top of cars, parts of the road are gone, many parts of the sidewalk are gone, storefronts are completely gone.”

“No one has ever seen devastation like this in Ellicott City or anywhere in Howard County,” Kittleman said. “There are a lot of businesses that are going to be hurting for a long time. There are a lot of people that lost their apartments and their homes.”

NBC reports that according to the county, at least “four homes were destroyed, and 20 to 30 others sustained substantial damage.”