Climate Change May Accelerate Catastrophic Mudslide Incidents

Eric Holthaus explains why the mudslide tragedy at Oso, Washington, may become more common as a result of climate change.

“One of the most well-forecast and consequential components of human-caused climate change is the tendency for rainstorms to become more intense as the planet warms. As the effect becomes more pronounced, that will make follow-on events like flooding and landslides more common.”

As explained by the Union of Concerned Scientists: “As average global temperatures rise, the warmer atmosphere can also hold more moisture … Thus, when storms occur there is more water vapor available in the atmosphere to fall as rain, snow or hail.”

“It only takes a small change in the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere to have a major effect.”

“Scientists have observed less rain falling in light precipitation events and more rain falling in the heaviest precipitation events across the United States. From 1958 to 2007, the amount of rainfall in the heaviest 1 percent of storms increased 31 percent, on average, in the Midwest and 20 percent in the Southeast.”

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