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A groundbreaking study published in the journal Nature has shed light on a concerning consequence of global warming. It said that warming causes more extreme rain, not snow, over mountains. This shift has detrimental effects, exacerbating dangerous flooding events while also leading to long-term water shortages.
The research, which analyzed precipitation data and conducted climate simulations, reveals that with every degree Fahrenheit rise in global temperatures, extreme rainfall at higher elevations increases by 8.3% (equivalent to 15% for every degree Celsius).
Heavy rainfall in mountainous regions presents a host of challenges that surpass those posed by heavy snowfall. These challenges include widespread flooding, landslides, and erosion, which can cause significant damage to infrastructure and ecosystems.
Snowpack gradually melts and replenishes reservoirs during the spring and summer months. But, rainwater runs off more quickly, reducing the opportunities for water storage and compounding the risk of water shortages in the long run.
Lead author Mohammed Ombadi, a hydrologist and climate scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, stresses that this problem is not a distant projection for the future but an issue that is already occurring. Ombadi asserts that the past few decades’ data provides evidence of the phenomenon’s current impact.
As the world teeters on the brink of surpassing the internationally agreed-upon threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, the study underscores the significance of each incremental degree. With every additional degree of warming, extreme rainfall over mountains surges by an alarming 15%.
The study, which examined the heaviest rains over the past six decades in the Northern Hemisphere, revealed a direct correlation between altitude and intensified precipitation. Notable increases in extreme rainfall were observed around 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) above sea level.
Ombadi warns that approximately one in four people on Earth reside in areas susceptible to extreme rain and subsequent flooding from mountains. He cites the devastating floods in Pakistan in recent years, claiming over 1,700 lives and submerging a third of the country, as an example of the potential impact of this mounting problem. While the study did not analyze the specific 2022 floods in Pakistan, Ombadi acknowledges that similar events may occur.
Renowned UCLA climate hydrologist Park Williams, who was not involved in the study, affirms the study’s credibility and highlights the severity of its implications. While scientists anticipate increased precipitation with rising temperatures, the risks associated with heavy snowfall are somewhat mitigated by the gradual melting process and the ability to monitor snowpack conditions.
However, as the proportion of mountain precipitation falling as snow diminishes, flood hazards may intensify rapidly. In the American West, extreme rainfall exacerbates flooding events in various ways, according to study co-author Charuleka Varadharajan, a hydrologist. She emphasizes the urgent need to address the issue of water management, as heavy rainfall leads to increased flooding, prompting questions about where the excess water will go.
In conclusion, the study’s findings on how warming causes more extreme rain, not snow, over mountains serve as a stark reminder of the far-reaching consequences of global warming. As the world grapples with the realities of climate change, urgent action is needed to mitigate the adverse effects of extreme rainfall, protect vulnerable communities, and ensure sustainable water management practices for the future.