Extreme weather events have become more common and intense across the globe: The historic storm in New York City on September 29 was a jarring example. While storms like these can seem like isolated events, they are part of a larger trend intertwined with climate change.
Last week, the city experienced heavy rainfall that caused severe flooding across all of its five boroughs.
Initially, the storm that hit New York City was projected to remain south of the coast, but nature had different plans. The storm switched directions and began moving north toward the city. This abrupt change resulted in the collision of the original, stronger storm with a separate, weaker one, causing heavy downpours across the city.
New York City’s storm serves as a startling reminder of a broader global trend in which climate change is increasing the occurrence of these heavy and long-lasting downpours.
What’s climate change’s role?
More evaporation: As temperatures increase, the evaporation of water from the Earth’s surface increases as well. Oceans, rivers, and lakes are the primary contributors of water to the Earth’s atmosphere, but water in the soil can also be a contributing factor.
Atmosphere: After evaporation, the water vapor rises into the atmosphere. This vapor is stored in clouds, combining and condensing until it becomes heavy enough to fall. The amount of water that can be stored in a cloud depends on the temperature; the atmosphere can hold about 7 percent more moisture per 1ºC increase in temperature.
Rainfall: The clouds will continue to get heavier until they reach capacity and must release the water. With more water vapor available in the atmosphere, clouds reach their capacity quicker and have more water stored when they release a downpour, resulting in more frequent and heavier storms.
What’s the impact?
The increased frequency of the storms has led to intense flooding, like in New York City. In urban areas, the drainage system is prone to blockage by debris and is easily overwhelmed by large storms, exacerbating flooding. In suburban and rural areas, soil acts as a natural drainage system, but it, too, can be overwhelmed by large storms.
At the same time as the East Coast has been hit by a number of severe storms, the West Coast has been plagued with droughts. These contrasting extremes are a warning signal of climate change’s lasting effects on our world. However, if we heed these warnings and collectively work to reduce our impact on the Earth, we can change the trajectory of our planet and make a difference.
How can you help?
Extra steps you can take:
Writing for Kids Fight Climate Change: If you are interested in making climate change news more accessible, you should consider joining us! Check out this link: Join the Team | Kids Fight Climate Change: Youth Climate Education
Volunteering at advocacy groups. VolunteerMatch is a great resource to find volunteer opportunities, virtual and in-person. Check out this link: VolunteerMatch
If neither of those options applies to you, there are still ways to raise awareness! Simply by sharing articles such as this one, you are doing your part to spread important climate information. That is activism.
“How Can Climate Change Affect Natural Disasters? | U.S. Geological Survey,” June 2, 2020. https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/how-can-climate-change-affect-natural-disasters.
Howard, Hilary. “Why Smaller Storms Are Growing More Fearsome, More Often.” The New York Times, September 30, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/30/nyregion/climate-change-flooding-storms.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share&referringSource=articleShare.
Poynting, By Esme Stallard & Mark. “How Climate Change Worsens Heatwaves, Droughts, Wildfires and Floods.” BBC News, September 19, 2023. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-58073295.
“Rain.” National Geographic, n.d. https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/rain/.
Reuters. “Torrential Rains Bring Flooding to New York,” September 29, 2023. https://www.reuters.com/pictures/torrential-rains-bring-flooding-new-york-2023-09-29/.