Publication Date August 23, 2021 | The Washington Post

Tennessee floods show a pressing climate danger across America: ‘Walls of water’

United States
Vehicle submerged in flood
Vehicles are submerged in Trace Creek on Aug. 22. (Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean/AP)

Climate Signals summary: Over 17 inches of rain fell in a single day in middle Tennessee, causing widespread destruction and over 20 deaths. It was the most rain to ever fall in the state in a 24 hour period. As the climate warms, it increases the threat of record-breaking rainfall and flooding.


Article excerpt: Tennessee’s flash floods underscore the peril climate change poses even in inland areas, where people once thought themselves immune. A warmer atmosphere that holds more water, combined with rapid development and crumbling infrastructure, is turning once-rare disasters into common occurrences.

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Inland flooding is the leading cause of death associated with tropical cyclones in the past 50 years, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. On average, damage from inland floods costs more than any other severe weather event.

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“There is no place in the United States where you shouldn’t be resetting your expectations about Mother Nature disrupting your life,” said Roy Wright, president of the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety and former head of FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program. “Climate change has come barging through the front doors of America.”

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The complex array of factors that contribute to a flood can complicate efforts to quantify climate change’s role. But research shows that warming makes events significantly more extreme.