Flooding in northeastern Brazil has killed 11 and destroyed about 70 houses, according to Brazilian authorities.
About 4.7 inches of rain fell in a few hours in Brazil this week, the equivalent of two months of rainfall in the region. The flooding was worsened by the fact that northeastern Brazil has been in the grips of its worst drought in at least 50 years, making the dry, hard-packed ground unable to absorb much of the deluge. It’s a scenario that’s likely to become more common as the climate warms — scientists have long predicted that the likeliness of drought as well extreme precipitation will increase along with climate change.
“This has already been observed and is projected to continue because in a warmer world, precipitation tends to be concentrated into more intense events, with longer periods of little precipitation in between,” a NOAA fact sheet reads. “Therefore, intense and heavy downpours would be interspersed with longer relatively dry periods.”
The most recent drought has hit Brazil hard. Parts of the country went over a year without seeing rain during the drought, which has been affecting the region for several years. In one region, about 90 percent of corn crops were lost, and prices for Cassave flour, a Brazilian staple, rose by up to 700 percent.
Brazil — like some of its neighbors — has become familiar with this pattern of drought and flooding. In 2005, parts of the Amazon region experienced one of the most intense droughts in 100 years. Five years later, in 2010, drought struck the region again, a dry spell that was found to be more widespread and more damaging than the 2005 drought (both of which have been linked to climate change). Then, in 2011, Brazil was hit by torrential rainfall and flooding, which killed more than 900 people and has been called one of the worst natural disasters in Brazilian history.
These periods of intense drought, especially, are bad news for the Amazon rain forest. Scientists found that the forest canopy in the Amazon was unable to bounce back quickly enough after the 2005 drought in time to successfully weather the 2010 drought, which could mean the region could suffer long-lasting damage.
Daniel Nepstad, an U.S. ecologist with Brazil’s Amazon Environmental Research Institute, said the multiple droughts in recent years are worrying.
“I think it’s reason for some pretty deep concern over the Amazon ecosystem,” he said. “We’re seeing the reliability of the seasons in the Amazon break down.”