By Greg Reinbold
The sweltering heat and wild weather we've been experiencing this summer are "the new normal," according to U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., chairman of the Environment and Public Works Water and Wildlife Subcommittee.
At a full committee hearing Tuesday, Aug. 1, Cardin emphasized preparedness for increasingly frequent extreme weather events is of paramount importance.
"It is time that we get serious about adapting our infrastructure and systems to these new conditions," Cardin said. "From our transportation infrastructure to our water systems to our public utilities, major systems are being negatively impacted by heat and storms. ... We cannot tolerate the kind of disruptions that we had just a few weeks ago with the storms that left people without power for nearly a week."
"This year, the United States has seen increased numbers of major, deadly storms that are devastating our communities," Cardin added. "The extreme derecho storm system that devastated the Maryland-Virginia-D.C. area last month left thousands and thousands of people out of power for a week during a severe heat wave. This is a public health issue and a public safety issue. I believe that I have a responsibility to the people of Maryland and to the people of this country, to do all that I can to help prepare us for the consequences of climate change. We need to act now to protect our communities."
Cardin has introduced the Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Act to equip communities to adapt their water systems to these changing conditions.
According to a study by the National Association of Clean Water Agencies and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, the costs in dealing with this newly recognized problem could approach $1 trillion through 2050.
"Our water infrastructure, already in desperate need of repair, is also at risk from climate change impacts," Cardin said.
A new Environment Maryland Research & Policy Center report confirms that extreme rainstorms and snowstorms are happening 55 percent more frequently in the Mid-Atlantic region than in 1948.
Severe storms that historically occurred once every 12 months now are happening about once every 7.7 months on average, according to the report based on an analysis of state data from the National Climatic Data Center.
"The increase in frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation events is consistent with the expected effects of global warming," said Dr. Ben Zaitchik, assistant professor of earth and planetary sciences at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "Warmer air holds more moisture, and that moisture is fuel for storms. It won't necessarily rain more often, but when it does rain, it's more likely that the rain will come as a high energy, intense downpour."
The new Environment Maryland Research & Policy Center report, "When It Rains, It Pours: Global Warming and the Increase in Extreme Precipitation from 1948 to 2011," examines trends in the frequency of and the total amount of precipitation produced by extreme rain and snow storms across the contiguous United States from 1948 to 2011.
Using data from 3,700 weather stations, the report identifies storms with the greatest 24-hour precipitation totals at each weather station and analyzes when those storms occurred. The report also examines trends in the amount of precipitation produced by the largest annual storm at each weather station.
The report found storms with extreme precipitation increased in frequency by 30 percent across the contiguous United States from 1948 to 2011. The largest annual storms produced 10 percent more precipitation, on average, nationwide. Forty-three states showed a significant trend toward more frequent storms with extreme precipitation, while only one state (Oregon) showed a significant decline.
Key findings for Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic include:
* The Mid-Atlantic region experienced a 55 percent increase in the frequency of extreme rainstorms and snowstorms from 1948 to 2011.
* The Mid-Atlantic region ranks second nationwide for the largest increase in the frequency of storms with heavy precipitation.
* The amount of precipitation released by the largest annual storms in Maryland increased by 14 percent from 1948 to 2011.