Flooding in India and Canada draws attention to climate change

• June 26, 2013
Flooding in India

Flooding in Alberta, Creative Commons: Wayne Stadler, 2013

Massive flooding hit both India and Canada over the past week, leaving communities stunned at the devastation and prompting many to examine the role of climate change in creating such extreme rainfall.

In the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, abnormally early monsoon rains that were four and a half times as heavy as usual seasonal rains overwhelmed the region with flooding. At the end of the weekend, the death toll had risen to 1,000 and another 62,000 are still stranded.

Religious pilgrim Sitaram Sukhatiahe who was trapped by the flooding told the Press Trust of India,

There is nothing left in Kedarnath now except the temple… It was shocking to watch a place bustling with people metamorphose in a matter of a few hours into an island of death and destruction.

Bhupendra Nath Goswami, director of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune, warned New Scientist that the rapid bursts of heavy rain behind this flood are increasingly likely to happen.

The frequency of extreme rain events is increasing over the Indian continent.

Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes in Alberta, Canada last week ahead of flooding that shut down the city of Calgary and left at least two dead. Chris Scott, director of meteorology at The Weather Network, told Reuters that what is normally half-a-year’s worth of rain had fallen in just 36 hours.

The flooding situation is very acute in the foothills and the mountains… Now all that water is rushing downstream and that’s why the situation is so bad in Calgary. This is an unprecedented flooding event.

Climate change is at work in shifting global weather patterns towards increased extreme weather, including extreme precipitation events during which heavy rain (or snow) falls within a short period of time. The flash flooding last week in Canada and India, as well as other recent flooding in Europe, the United States, and Argentina, demonstrates this larger pattern of intense and abnormal rainfall — what some climate scientists are describing as “when it rains, it pours.”

Flash flooding overwhelms the ability of both urban and rural landscapes to drain accumulated rainfall — and when rain collects faster than it drains, flooding results. More specifically, in surveying the damage done in Uttarakhand, many have pointed out that poorly planned development in the Himalayan floodplain increased the destructive consequences of the storm by worsening erosion and landslides. These factors point to the need for more climate-aware development and adaptation measures that will enable homes, buildings, and infrastructure to withstand the flash flooding and other extreme weather events that will become more frequent with continued climate change.


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About the Author

Emily is a graduate of St. Mary's College of Maryland with a B.A. in psychology. While in school, she spent her time leading environmental and social justice campaigns. She recently worked for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network as a grassroots organizer for a moratorium on natural gas fracking in Maryland.

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