Stretches of the swollen Susquehanna River began receding Friday after days of rainfall from what had been Tropical Storm Lee flooded communities from Virginia to New York, leading to evacuation orders for nearly 100,000 people. At least 12 deaths have been blamed on Lee and its remnants. The damage was concentrated along the Susquehanna in Binghamton, N.Y., in Wilkes-Barre, where more than 70,000 people were told to evacuate, and other communities downstream in Maryland. The National Weather Service said the Susquehanna crested above 38 feet Thursday night in Wilkes-Barre — below the top of the levee system and under the levels reached after historic flooding spawned by Hurricane Agnes in 1972.
This extreme flooding should come as no surprise. Climate scientists have warned for decades that this kind of disaster would be one of the consequences of unlimited greenhouse pollution. Between 1948 and 2006, Pennsylvania saw a 41 percent increase in extreme precipitation as the planet warmed. This is no “once-in-a-generation” event — it’s a mild hint of our disastrous future.
Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann tells ThinkProgress Green:
One of the most robust climate change predictions is for more intense rainfall and flooding, due to the simple fact that a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, meaning there is greater potential for heavy precipitation.
While specific weather events always contain a large random component — like a roll of the weather dice — we are loading those dice through the warming of the planet resulting from fossil fuel burning. We are seeing those loaded dice in action with the events that have unfolded this summer, including the record-setting flooding we are seeing in the eastern U.S.
According to the National Weather Service, the Susquehanna River has crested at 42.66 feet at Wilkes-Barre, PA, beating the record set by Agnes in 1972 of 40.91 ft. The USGS river gauge was overwhelmed last night at 38.72 feet.