Dec 4, 2015

The Chennai Floods Are a Devastating Preview of Unnatural Disasters to Come

Chennai, Tamil Nadu
India
by
Eric Holthaus
,
Slate
An Indian man shelters under an umbrella as he walks through floodwaters in Chennai on December 1, 2015, during a downpour of heavy rain in the southern Indian city. Photo by STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images
An Indian man shelters under an umbrella as he walks through floodwaters in Chennai on December 1, 2015, during a downpour of heavy rain in the southern Indian city. Photo by STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images

November was Chennai’s rainiest calendar month in history: An unimaginable 47 inches fell. Then, this week, things got worse. Wednesday’s rains brought an additional 11 inches—34 times the normal amount. More rain is expected in the coming days, linked to an enhanced northeast monsoon boosted by a record-strong El Niño in the Pacific Ocean and the record-warm Indian Ocean. Flooding is nothing new in Chennai—major floods have occurred there in 1903, 1943, 1978, 1985, 2002, and 2005—but it’s very likely that enhanced evaporation linked to climate change has contributed to this week’s tragedy, making heavy rains more likely. The country’s lead meteorologist as well as its prime minister, Narendra Modi, have both endorsed this linkage.