For Louisiana, the Rains of Climate Change Fall Hard — More Heavy Storms Expected to Hit Central U.S.

Imagine, for a moment, that the Earth’s atmosphere is simply a big storm-generating engine. Imagine that the ignition trigger for this engine comes in the form of heat rising off the land and ocean surface. And imagine that the engine’s fuel is water vapor evaporated by that heat.

Keep the level of heat and water vapor constant, and you’ll get a continuous, steady stream of storms firing off. But increase the heat and water vapor content, as we have over the past 137 or so years, and the storms that engine produces become a whole hell of a lot more powerful.

In this context, in the last few days record atmospheric and ocean-surface heat helped to produce some of the highest water vapor levels ever recorded over Louisiana. This extreme moisture content, in turn, sparked some of the worst flooding ever seen for the state. From the Pacific Standard:

As the atmosphere warms thanks to greenhouse gas emissions, it can hold more water vapor — and this effect makes it exponentially more likely that extreme rainfall events will occur. The weather balloon released on Friday morning from the New Orleans office of the NWS measured near all-time record levels of atmospheric moisture, higher than some measurements taken during past hurricanes. The NWS meteorologist who reported this morning’s reading remarked simply, “obviously we are in record territory.”

By burning fossil fuels in such high volumes for so long, that’s what we’ve done. We’ve added heat and moisture fuel to the atmospheric engine such that historic, unprecedented rain events now seem to be a weekly occurrence. And the strength of storms hasn’t increased by only a bit: the strongest storms are now exceptionally more powerful than they were back before so much CO2 and other greenhouse gasses turned the Earth’s atmosphere into something the structures of human civilization aren’t really engineered to handle.

Amite River

(The Amite River hits highest crest ever recorded as sections of Louisiana see 20-30 inches of rain. Image source: NOAA.)

Today, the Earth’s atmosphere also has a bit more kick due to another contributing factor: The Earth is now cooling down from a strong El Nino that helped push the world to record-hot temperatures in 2015 and 2016. To be clear, this El Nino is not the cause of the record-hot global temperatures (nor of all the added extreme rainfall potential) — it’s the warm side of the natural variability cycle. However, when you add in human greenhouse gasses, each El Nino brings with it the risk of hitting new hottest temperatures ever. As those new hot temperatures are reached, the atmosphere gets another kick into a higher, more damaging storm-firing gear.

As El Nino cools toward La Nina, that heavy volume of extra moisture loses a bit of its atmospheric support. Imagine tons and tons of moisture held up only by the heat rising from below. Take some of that heat away, and a big portion of that huge volume of moisture is going to fall out somewhere as a big rain bomb. Over the past few days, these huge dumps of rain set their sights on Louisiana.

Louisiana Floods Worst Ever Recorded

About a week ago, a powerful flood of atmospheric moisture emerged from the record-hot surface waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Almost immediately, extremely strong storms bloomed, producing very heavy rainfall totals in the range of one foot or more along sections of coastal Florida and just offshore.

Over the course of the next few days, this big swirl of moisture, which in many ways resembled a tropical cyclone without the strong center of circulation, drifted west. By late Thursday, it began to move inland over sections of coastal Louisiana. It was then that the real inundation started. By Friday, reports were coming in that one foot of rain had already fallen in southeastern portions of the state. Throughout Saturday and Sunday, the rains just kept coming.

Historic Rainfall Louisiana

(Areas in blue on the precipitation map show regions that have received greater than one foot of rainfall over the past 72 hours. Note the huge swath in central southern Louisiana. Heavy storms have also hammered the central Mississippi River states and southeastern Texas. Image source: iWeatherNet.com.)

By early Monday, 72-hour rainfall totals showed that fully one-third of Louisiana had received more than one foot of rainfall (see map above). Local spikes within this huge swath have now exceeded two feet with total amounts as high as 30 inches reported.

As the heavy rains fell like never before, they pushed a historic flood of water down local rivers, many of which hit their highest levels ever recorded at various locations Sunday and Monday. As of Monday morning, the Amite River had crested six feet above the previous record high level at Magnolia and more than four feet above the all-time high at Denham Springs.

Currently, most of the eastern half of Baton Rouge and numerous adjacent communities are experiencing very severe flooding. There, 125 vehicles are reported stranded on Interstate 7 even as more than 1,000 homes have flooded. In Livingston, St. Helena Parish, and Tangipahoa Parish another 1,700 homes are reported to have flooded. With floods affecting operations, hospitals such as Ochsner Medical Center in Baton Rouge are being forced to transfer patients. Rail lines have been flooded out, telephone service cut off, and seven people are reported to have lost their lives with more missing.

Louisiana Homes Flooded

(Residents must use motor boats to access homes in southeastern Louisiana as around 20,000 residents have been forced to evacuate. Image source: KVEW.)

Throughout the region, more than 3,500 emergency personnel have been helping to evacuate those in the flood zone and hundreds have been plucked from the rising waters including a well-known college sports commentator and his wife. In total, more than 20,000 people and thousands of companion animals have now been rescued. Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards, who declared a state of emergency on Friday, watched aghast as his mansion’s basement flooded this morning, forcing him to join the displaced.

Unfortunately, storms continue to rumble over Louisiana, with one of these tossing out a lightning bolt that sparked a fire at a local oil refinery this morning (which was subsequently extinguished).

More Big Storms Predicted from Texas to the Great Lakes

Much of the moisture from the system that generated unprecedented flooding in Louisiana has since been pulled into a big trough stretching from Texas diagonally across the Mississippi into northeastern Ohio. Big storms are predicted to erupt along this frontal boundary today and tomorrow, with significant heavy rainfall expected.

Precipitation Map

(NOAA’s seven-day forecast shows very heavy storms from Texas to the Great Lakes. Image source: NOAA QPC.)

This precipitation pattern is predicted to remain mostly in place over the coming week as the frontal boundary stalls and then sags toward Tennessee. Areas expected to see heaviest precipitation totals range from Texas through northern Louisiana and into the Great Lakes region.

It’s worth noting that there’s still a huge amount of moisture in this system. So far, NOAA-predicted precipitation amounts have come up short of the heaviest amounts hitting local regions by as much as 50 percent or more, so unfortunately we’re likely to see more flash-flooding events over a broad area as the week progresses. With so much heavy precipitation falling along the Mississippi, it’s likely that a number of significant flood pulses will be headed toward portions of that large waterway.

Links:

Death Toll Rises in Historic Louisiana Floods — 20,000 Rescued

Historic Flood Event in Louisiana From 20-30 Inches of Rain

America’s Latest 500-Year Rainstorm

Total Rainfall Over Past 3 Days

Rain Bombs Set Sights on U.S. Gulf Coast

KVEW

NOAA QPC

NOAA Doppler Radar

iWeatherNet Weather Map

NOAA River Gauges

Hat tip to Bill McKibben

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Jay M

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Darvince

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58 Comments

  1. Colorado Bob

     /  August 15, 2016

    Experts warn of threat of born-again smallpox from old Siberian graveyards
    By The Siberian Times reporter
    12 August 2016

    This summer’s melting of permafrost is more than THREE TIMES greater than usual, unlocking long-frozen deadly diseases.

    ‘There was a town where up to 40% of the population died. Naturally, the bodies were buried under the upper layer of permafrost soil, on the bank of the Kolyma River. Now, a little more than 100 years later, Kolyma’s floodwaters have started eroding the banks.’

    http://siberiantimes.com/science/opinion/features/f0249-experts-warn-of-threat-of-born-again-smallpox-from-old-siberian-graveyards/

    Reply
  2. climatehawk1

     /  August 15, 2016

    Tweet scheduled.

    Reply
  3. Colorado Bob

     /  August 15, 2016

    According to the insurance broker Aon Benfield, “The major flood and thunderstorm event that impacted parts of Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas during March 2016 caused roughly USD1.5 billion in economic damage. It is currently anticipated that the August 2016 event will approach and possibly exceed this cost once all damage incurred to homes, businesses, public facilities, vehicles, infrastructure, and agriculture is taken into account.”

    https://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/billiondollar-flood-has-louisiana-reeling-98l-may-become-a-tropical-

    Reply
    • So, so far for 2016 alone, flood damage in Louisiana are likely to exceed 3-4 billion dollars…

      That’s two of these events in just 4 months time.

      Reply
      • That’s a huge amount for any state or province to have to take on, and if these events keep happening all over the place, federal governments are going to be stretched very thin very quickly.

        I wonder what happens to the global economy as these weather events happen at an increasing pace. Sure there’s the economic stimulation for having to pay for the cleanup, but sooner or later governments are going to have to raise taxes to pay for it. It’ll be interesting to see how those kinds of fund raising efforts get labelled too.

        Reply
        • I think the global economy is going to take a huge hit.

          Also there’s a lot of coal mining and oil and natural gas extraction infrastructure that will be adversely affected by all this global weirding we’re having, which means the production will *finally* peak and decline once the financial sector and the governments can no longer lend to, subsidize, and bail out the fossil fuels industry and the banks they borrow from.

        • Mulga Mumblebrain

           /  August 16, 2016

          The insurance industry, such as it is, will go ‘tits-up’ as they say, that’s for sure. The reinsurance apparatchiki have been warning of the coming collapse your years.

        • And once the insurance companies go tits-up, the stock markets will absolutely swoon and crash to the floor, wiping out TRILLIONS of wealth in a fortnight.

          The banks will go belly-up, too.

          THE RICH stand to lose lots and lots of wealth, especially FEMA-flood-insurance-subsidized beachfront property, but the little guys will literally lose EVERYTHING.

      • Abel Adamski

         /  August 16, 2016

        Economically it will be a huge hit Nationally due to the repetitive factor, the structures, infrastructure, roads bridges, pipelines, power water supplies, communications let alone domestic and commercial buildings.
        Not forgetting the damage to the equipment currently in place repairing the first round of damage.
        How often can this happen and still be economically viable

        Reply
        • Mulga Mumblebrain

           /  August 16, 2016

          US infrastructure is already in parlous conditions after decades of cuts undertaken to raise money for the rich owners of society, and of the ‘politics’ bunraku puppet play. But what’s coming will even defeat the industrious Chinese.

  4. It was… a lot. And the storm was the second thousand year flood to hit SE Louisiana this year. Baton Rouge is a mess. So is Denham Springs. Routes I-10, I-12, 190 and 22 were shut down. Some of the thousand-year flooding occurred in the same places as some of the other thousand year floods from the earlier storm, in March.

    Reply
    • Mulga Mumblebrain

       /  August 16, 2016

      I can see the head-lines in our local Murdoch shite-rags- ‘Louisiana Safe from Floods for Two Thousand Years!!’

      Reply
  5. Colorado Bob

     /  August 15, 2016

    Reply
  6. – Weather wise — Elsewhere:

    Reply
  7. Reply
  8. Colorado Bob

     /  August 15, 2016

    Floods inundate 2,900 houses in Phayao

    PHAYAO – Overflowing rivers flooded 2,900 houses in Phayao’s Chiang Kham and Pong districts on Monday morning, with one man reported missing and three other people injured. Relentless rain from Sunday…

    :http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/general/1062229/floods-inundate-2-900-houses-in-phayao.

    Reply
  9. Reply
  10. – USA – Explosive wildfires plague the West Coast:
    Top news ‏@topnuntious 30m30 minutes ago

    Fast-moving Calif. wildfire destroys more than 100 homes, forces thousands to flee

    Reply
  11. Reply
  12. Spike

     /  August 15, 2016

    Another reason to go after methane – it damages crops.

    https://eos.org/research-spotlights/which-greenhouse-gas-does-the-most-damage-to-crops

    Reply
  13. labmonkey2

     /  August 15, 2016

    Just watched a quick calc on Weather Channel of amount of water [just La. and just this month] and their current guesstimate is upwards of 4 trillion gallons.
    Unbelieveable amount of moisture. And all of it will end up in the Gulf…along with all its dissolved nutrients. I expect to see a rather large algal bloom associated with this. Especially since the water is already warm, and the Gulf is already blooming in many locations.

    Reply
    • Watch out for Gulf of Mexico dead zone… It’s these big rainfalls and nutrient flushes hitting warmer than normal waters that really harm ocean health. In a hothouse world, that’s the mechanism for Canfield Ocean generation.

      Reply
    • Genomik

       /  August 15, 2016

      Every time there is flooding it brings down everything with it. Nutrient runoff as just mentioned but also toxins, old cans of paint or oil, who knows what folks had stored around the farm that will now get washed downriver.

      Reply
    • labmonkey2

       /  August 15, 2016

      Minor correction – this total is for August 12, 13, & 14 only.
      Damn… Skippy.

      Reply
    • If only there were sufficient infrastructure to carry all that water to sunny California! But I suspect that’s not fiscally or economically feasible.

      Reply
  14. Oale

     /  August 15, 2016

    Looks like normal values for a republican state, no need to concern youtself with this, they’ll manage themselves just fine.

    Reply
  15. Melting Ice Sheets Flood Louisiana
    http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/08/15/melting-ice-sheets-flood-louisiana/

    …According to a recent study, between January 2011 and the end of 2014 one trillion tons of ice melted from the Greenland ice sheet alone. Excluding the glaciers disappearing from the Himalayas and other mountain ranges, and the ice melting in Antarctica, and elsewhere, over one four year period Greenland contributed hundreds of trillions of gallons of water and vapor to the hydrosphere. And where does all of this water go? Among other places, it’s flooding through the streets of Louisiana.

    Article at link

    Reply
  16. MOSCOW SEES ‘WORST RAINS IN 130 YEARS’

    From Sunday night through to Monday, the city saw nearly half the monthly rainfall in just 24 hours.

    http://www.euronews.com/2016/08/15/moscow-sees-worst-rains-in-130-years

    Reply
  17. The study indicates that a drought like the one that happened in 2000 – 2006 “would empty Lake Powell,” according to the Aspen Daily News. “Another potential conclusion from the risk study is that any new trans-mountain diversion would only make it more likely that Powell would go below target levels,” the publication noted.

    … water agencies in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah are proposing to do just that. In fact, Denver Water, Northern Water (in Colorado), and the states of Wyoming and Utah are all proposing even more dams and diversions of water out of the river and its tributaries that would accelerate the draining of Lake Powell and cause serious legal consequences for the entire Southwest U.S.

    Further, climate change scientists have painted a bullseye on the Southwest U.S., indicating that it will get hotter and drier, with even less flow into the Colorado River. The lead investigator in the in-progress Colorado report has even said, “I haven’t shown the climate change hydrology because it just scares everybody.”
    http://www.ecowatch.com/lake-powell-lake-mead-drought-1974067342.html

    Reply
  18. June

     /  August 15, 2016

    Bill McKibben has a good essay in the New Republic on the need for a WW2 scale mobilization to deal with climate change. But if the MSM continues to treat these disasters as unrelated weather events, it will be difficult to convince reasonable people (as opposed to the right-wing crowd) of the extreme urgency for action.

    A world at war
    We’re under attack from climate change—and our only hope is to mobilize like we did in WWII.

    https://newrepublic.com/article/135684/declare-war-climate-change-mobilize-wwii

    Reply
    • I suspect the mainstream media treats all these as unrelated events that may or may not have had anything to do with climate change because their owners either believe that (1) AGW influenced climate change does not exist or (2) the climate change we need to be concerned about won’t show up until 2100, thanks in no small part to the IPCC and their “directors” (governments, many of which are compromised by FF interests).

      Reply
  19. Reply
  20. Syd Bridges

     /  August 15, 2016

    dt, we had milky skies over Northern Colorado near Red Feather Lakes this morning. I cannot recall seeing such skies years ago. The smoke and haze are from the Walden fire about 50 miles away with the smoke plume heading towards Wyoming. I took a few pictures, but cannot work out how to post them here.

    The fire is likely to burn until October or November, as it is not being fought at present. It is in rough, largely uninhabited terrain, with a lot of beetle kill.

    As for the storms hitting Louisiana, the quantities are huge but not altogether surprising. However, nowhere on land has the sort of infrastructure needed to handle these quantities of rain, and such an investment would be prohibitively expensive. With these events occurring in so many places, how can we make a choice as where to put any such defenses anyway?

    Reply
  21. labmonkey2

     /  August 15, 2016

    Slightly OT, but relative to conversation on CC:

    Most of the world will have air conditioning in their homes, workplaces and cars within 20 years, requiring thousands of power stations to be built and potentially accelerating climate change, energy experts say.

    https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/aug/15/increase-air-conditioning-accelerate-climate-change

    The narrow [relatively speaking] range of survival of many species has rapidly changed due to mankind’s lack of forethought.
    The action (or not) of the next 10 years will determine the outcome of the next 10000.

    Reply
  22. A whole season’s (or more) rain in a day or two (or less) – now that’s a non-linear break with the past.

    And learn new words: “rain bomb” “derecho” “firenado” “haboob”

    Maybe time for obeisances to the divine:

    The fire god

    the rain god

    Reply
  23. Cento

     /  August 16, 2016

    There’s some bad trends here. I am interested though in how things might pan out in the looming Southern Hemisphere summer, especially with a La Niña and potentially elevated levels of moisture. There were some exceptional rain events in Australia a few months ago and back in 2010-2011 that killed 39 people and flooded a state capital. (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010–11_Queensland_floods)

    Any trends developing?

    Reply
  24. Ever sit out on the sidewalk of a cafe, bar, or restaurant beneath or near an air conditioner? You’re blasted with the heat from the interior of the cafe, bar or restaurant. The AC just adds the heat to the great outdoors. I don’t know the physics or chemistry of AC but it seems to me it just transfers the heat inside to the heat outdoors. If it doesn’t add to climate warming, it surely sustains it.

    Reply
    • It’s a local effect and one that has a very small forcing on climate.

      Think for a moment about all the oil gas and coal we burn every year. Now imagine that all the energy produced from that oil, gas, and coal is just a small fraction of the amount of solar heat energy that same volume of coal, oil, and gas can trap once it is released as carbon into the atmosphere.

      To get a sense of how much energy is being trapped, it’s helpful to make a somewhat understandable comparison. For example, it would take 4 Hiroshima sized bombs exploding in the atmosphere every second to produce the same amount of thermal radiation that all the greenhouse gasses we’ve added to the atmosphere produce.

      So the next time you feel the heat coming off an AC, just remember that carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere are blasting out hundreds of times as much as all the AC condensers in all the world if they were all operating at the same time.

      Reply
  1. For Louisiana, The Rains of Climate Change Fall Hard — More Heavy Storms Expected to Hit Central US — robertscribbler – Earth Network .news
  2. Zero Percent Contained — Blue Cut Fire Explodes to 30,000 Acres, Forces 82,000 People to Flee | RClimate
  3. Deep Green Philly » On Pipelines & Nate Parker

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