What was described as a historic storm that hit eastern Kentucky on Wednesday night resulted in the worst flooding in the state, leaving at least 37 dead, around 100 more missing, and a trail of devastation as the floods destroyed homes and properties.
National Weather Services’ science and operations in Kentucky Dustin Jordan says that his agency issued numerous flash flood warnings before the storm and upgraded the alert to a catastrophic level, the highest you can go. He said some areas experienced 14 to 15 inches of rain over five days last week, an unprecedented amount of rainfall that led to flash floods. And the fact that the downpour happened during the night made it highly dangerous to residents. Many of them found it difficult to get out of their homes.
Climate change and Kentucky’s deluge
Experts are calling this deluge a 1 in a 1,000 rain event. Climate scientists attribute this disaster to climate change.
Jonathan Overpeck, an earth and environmental sciences professor at the University of Michigan, explains that the warming of the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels means that the atmosphere holds more moisture, which means more intense rainfall (Yang, 2022).
“This means the risk of flooding is going up dramatically over much of the planet where people live, and Kentucky is one of those places. The evidence is clear that climate change is a growing problem for Kentucky and the surrounding region – more floods like this week, and more floods when wetter tropical storms track north over the state” (Yang, 2022).
Meanwhile, California is ravaged by wildfires, the biggest the state has seen in 2022. The McKinney fire started on 29 July in the Klamath National Forest in Siskiyou County, scorching more than 55,000 as of writing, an area bigger than San Francisco. On 30 July, Governor Newsom declared a state of emergency as the fires intensified.
Times report that the fires have been blamed for the deaths of two people found in their incinerated vehicles.
“A heat wave across the Pacific Northwest and years of drought that have resulted in very dry fuel in forests—both of which experts say are made worse by climate change—are creating conditions for bigger, more frequent, and more unpredictable fires across California this year” (Burga, 2022).
Although authorities have not yet determined what started the fire, they are confident that the large blaze is a result of California’s multi-year drought, hot temperatures, dry conditions and low moisture levels and wind – conditions of climate change that significantly increase wildfire events now and into the future, the article says.
A webinar to cope with the increasing wildfire events
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine organised a monthly webinar series, Climate Conversations: Pathways to Action, “that aims to convene high-level, cross-cutting, nonpartisan conversations about issues relevant to national policy action on climate change”.
This month’s webinar, “Climate Conversations: Wildfire“, on 25 August, will discuss how to protect human health and the built environment in the face of more frequent and severe wildfires in the United States.
Click the link to register for this webinar.
Yang, M. (31 July 2022). Kentucky grapples with effect of climate crisis as floods leave trail of devastation. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/jul/31/kentucky-flash-floods-climate-crisis
Burga, S. (2022, 2 August). California’s McKinney Fire Has Burned 55,000 Acres – And Wildfire Season Will Only Get More Dangerous. Retrieved from https://time.com/6202951/california-wildfires-mckinney-2022/ Burke, M.,
Chan, M. & Siemaszko, C. (2022, August 3). Kentucky flood survivors say there was no time to escape the deluge. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/kentucky-flood-survivors-say-was-no-time-escape-deluge-rcna41152
- California Wildfire by Pacific Southwest Forest Service, USDA from USA – 20200910-FS-Sierra-tls-122, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=94068146
- Kentucky State sign by Andreas Faessler – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39712759