“An Extreme Rainfall Event Unprecedented in Recorded History Has Hit the Binghamton, New York Area”

Dr. Jeff Masters:  An extreme rainfall event unprecedented in recorded history has hit the Binghamton, New York area, where 7.49″ fell yesterday. This is the second year in a row Binghamton has recorded a 1-in-100 year rain event; their previous all-time record was set last September, when 4.68″ fell on Sep 30 – Oct. 1, 2010. Records go back to 1890 in the city….

You don’t often see a major city break its all-time 24-hour precipitation record by a 60% margin, according to wunderground’s weather historian, Christopher C. Burt, and he can’t recall ever seeing it happen before.

Radar-observed rainfall (via Masters)

Before seeing that amazing story, I was all set to lead with the “unprecedented” rains soaking the Washington, DC area:

I can’t recall flooding like this. This is unprecedented,” [Virginia Department of Transportation spokesman] Morris said.

The unrelenting rains, sometimes falling at four inches an hour….

Capital Weather Gang’s Jason Samenow points me to this post, which has more details on our deluge:

Fort Belvoir, Va., recorded at least (last ob with rain total was 7:55 p.m.) an incredible 8.82” with as much as 7.03” coming during a three-hour stretch during the evening. It has received a stunning 13.52” since Monday.

And let’s not forget Irene’s recent devastating 1-in-100 year deluge, which was “the most devastating weather event ever to hit the region” where I grew up near the Catskill Mountains of New York state.  It also set “the greatest single-day rainfall in Vermont’s history” by over an inch.

What’s going on?

Well, a very basic prediction of climate science is that as you warm the planet you get more water vapor in the atmosphere and more rain comes down in extreme deluges.  Observations reveal that is already happening, and the  recent scientific literature has said that is extremely likely that human emissions are the cause of this increase in precipitation intensity.  Climate Progress ran through the recent literature in this February post, “Two seminal Nature papers join growing body of evidence that human emissions fuel extreme weather, flooding that harm humans and the environment.”

In a new report by by the scientific group Climate Communication, “Current Extreme Weather and Climate Change” report, top climatologists scientists spell out how human-caused global warming is loading the dice for the extreme weather seen in the past year.  You can listen to a press conference held Wednesday by Jeff Masters and Jerry Meehl and Kevin Trenberth and Richard Somerville here.

Trenberth, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explained the deluge-warming connection in an interview with Climate Progress last year:

I find it systematically tends to get underplayed and it often gets underplayed by my fellow scientists. Because one of the opening statements, which I’m sure you’ve probably heard is “Well you can’t attribute a single event to climate change.” But there is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4% extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms and it’s unfortunate that the public is not associating these with the fact that this is one manifestation of climate change. And the prospects are that these kinds of things will only get bigger and worse in the future.

I also recommend his 2011 review paper, “Changes in precipitation with climate change,” which elaborates on this with extensive citations of the scientific literature.  The abstract begins:

There is a direct influence of global warming on precipitation. Increased heating leads to greater evaporation and thus surface drying, thereby increasing the intensity and duration of drought. However, the water holding capacity of air increases by about 7% per 1°C warming, which leads to increased water vapor in the atmosphere. Hence, storms, whether individual thunderstorms, extratropical rain or snow storms, or tropical cyclones, supplied with increased moisture, produce more intense precipitation events. Such events are observed to be widely occurring, even where total precipitation is decreasing: ‘it never rains but it pours!’ This increases the risk of flooding.

The atmospheric and surface energy budget plays a critical role in the hydrological cycle, and also in the slower rate of change that occurs in total precipitation than total column water vapor. With modest changes in winds, patterns of precipitation do not change much, but result in dry areas becoming drier (generally throughout the subtropics) and wet areas becoming wetter, especially in the mid- to high latitudes: the ‘rich get richer and the poor get poorer’. This pattern is simulated by climate mod- els and is projected to continue into the future

Dry areas get drier, wet areas get wetter.  Hell and High Water.  And you ain’t seen nothing yet since we may see another 5°C warming this century!

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50 Responses to “An Extreme Rainfall Event Unprecedented in Recorded History Has Hit the Binghamton, New York Area”

  1. Jake says:

    No problem. Elect Rick Perry and hope for better weather through prayer.

  2. Colorado Bob says:

    4 days ago in Japan –
    The cities of Shingu, Wakayama Prefecture, and Kumano, Mie Prefecture, respectively, registered an hourly rainfall of 132.5 millimeters (5.21 inches) and 101.5 millimeters (3.99 inches) — both record rainfalls.

    In the village of Kamikitayama, Nara Prefecture, the rainfall which started on the evening of Aug. 30 amounted to 1,808.5 millimeters ( 71.2 inches) . On the evening of Sept. 4, AMeDAS (the Automatic Meteorological Data Acquisition System) in the village stopped transmitting data.

  3. Will Koroluk says:

    Excellent post, Joe. A lot of newspapers don’t pay much attention to weather events unless they’re local. The Oklahoma-Texas mess, for example, gets almost no play in Canadian papers. So people like you have to keep pounding away at the weather stories, making the connection between these unprecedented events and climate change.

  4. SecularAnimist says:

    Just wait a few months. All of this torrential rain will be SNOW. Won’t that be fun.

  5. Colorado Bob says:


    INCHES SET IN 1975.

  6. Colorado Bob says:





  7. Nick Berini says:

    Can you provide a source for that? Great statistic…

    “Hell and High Water” – there’s a prediction coming true all too fast.

  8. “human-caused global warming is loading the dice for the extreme weather”

    Not only are we loading the extreme weather dice…we are also adding spots. So our weather from now on will roll 12 more often and it will also start rolling 13 and 14.

    Or higher…

    How extreme our weather gets all depends on when we stop dumping 90 mega-tonnes of weather fuel into the atmosphere every day. Fortunately have a President who is explaining this threat to Americans and a conservative party that is working hard to prevent such extremely radical changes to our way of life.

  9. Tom Gray says:

    Oooo, excellent paragraph about the extra dots, Barry. That belongs in a blog post somewhere …

  10. Wes Rolley says:

    While we discuss extreme weather in the US, let us not forget that these all pale in comparison to the 1,806 mm of rain that fell in Japan as part of typhoon 13. That is 71 inches of rain in one event.

    Had Irene carried this much precip, where would we be?

  11. john atcheson says:

    Great analogy … “Rolling 13”

  12. B Page says:

    Is there a good time line of extreme weather events available, and also a bar chart that compares emissions to extreme weather (I have only seen C02 vs. insurance claims). thanks

  13. ttrentham says:

    Rick Perry is a [snip]. I know. I’ve had to live in the same city with him for the last 11 years. Our education system, healthcare and most everything else are a mess.

    Combine the reports of unprecedented rainfall like the ones you posted with Texas just having the hottest summer on record for any state ever.

    Yeah, there’s no such thing as climate change.

  14. Joan Savage says:

    Upstate New York was in its typical low flow condition for this time of year, before TS Lee, so the stream channels have more capacity to keep flooding within banks than they would have in the January-May interval of higher flow. The flooding is rapid, but higher groundwater levels may stay with us and are worth watching as the growing season winds down.

  15. thanes says:

    And with all this, DEAFENING SILENCE from the media. My brother lives in Binghamton, and it’s a catastrophe. Nearby town evacuated 1/3 or people. And of all the coverage I read on all of these disasters (Texas especially), NO mention of global warming of any kind. So my first question- have fossil fuel companies changed how much ad revenue they spend on the major outlets, or has it changed relatively to drops from elsewhere?
    And this- no one went to jail from the Tobacco Institute, even though you can show they knowing lied for money, and as a direct result people are dead. When we are done with the Denialists having any sway, are we going to let the ring-masters get away with it again?
    I’m not inclined to do that.

  16. Paul magnus says:

    Its shock. People just don’t know how to react at the moment. In a few months most Poole who have been affected or know someone directly who has will see the light.

    GOP is on a losing run by adopting their anti GW stance for whatever reasons….

  17. Frank Zaski says:

    STICKIER! In addition to extreme weather events, many more people are suffering from DAILY HIGHER HUMIDITY and probably more pollen, mosquitoes, barometric pressure changes (migraines?) and other new–normal weather related irritants. These are other global warming related point to research and report out.

    “Many U.S. cities have set records for overnight temperatures this summer, which often is associated with higher humidity.”

    I recall sleeping thru the night in Michigan with the windows open, but no longer, too hot, humid and pollinated! I hate to use the energy guzzling A/C and dehumidifier. Pity the poor without A/C.

  18. Tim says:

    I was on Skype with my 24-year-old daughter last night. She just moved to Washington DC a couple of weeks ago. I live in Brazos county, Texas – where the great drought of 2011 has been in the “exceptional” category longer than anywhere else. She was complaining that it has rained ever since she moved there, and I was complaining that…well, you know.

  19. Will Koroluk says:

    I know of a freelance writer who has simply given up. He used to do quite a bit of environment reporting, but he’s found that editors who would buy climate-related copy from him two or three years ago, won’t buy now. They told him that readers are “bored” with climate stories, or that they were “tired of all the fear-mongering.” They would still run local weather stories, of course, but always without mention of climate change.
    This writer suspects that the calls the editors get come, not from the fossil-fuel industry, but from its proxies–the car dealers and real-estate developers who buy a lot of ads in local papers.
    So the writer packed it in, and now is a salaried employee in a non-journalism job.
    The fossil-fuel companies often don’t have to pay people to do their bidding–especially when there are so many in the news business who are willing to do it for free.

  20. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I’m sorry, but I cannot laugh, only grimace uncomfortably. Praying for divine intervention may bemuse the ‘reality-based community’, but it will get Perry elected in a land careering back to pre-Enlightenment times.

  21. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    These are BIG differences from the previous records.

  22. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Exactly-it’s all caused by comic..oops, sorry, cosmic rays. Only a Gawdam Carmnist would say otherwise.

  23. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    thanes, the only rational way to examine the behaviour of the Western MSM is, in my opinion, to follow Chomsky and Herman’s ‘propaganda model’ as outlined in ‘Manufacturing Consent’. The prime duty of the entirely capitalist owned media is to protect the capitalist system that so benefits the owners of the media and their class. As a result, and exacerbated by media oligopolisation and the rise of extreme Right propaganda organs like the whole of News Corpse, the media is nowadays staffed almost entirely by Rightwing ideologues, who dismiss anthropogenic climate chaos on purely ideological grounds. The more the number and the greater the intensity of weather and climate disasters, the greater will be the silence, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

  24. Tony says:

    And rains today in New Delhi.

  25. Tony says:

    It’s happening right before our eyes, but we don’t see it.

  26. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I disagree Mulga. There is one thing we can do, just like the old whispering campaigns.

    If we all get out there and just keep saying it, get that mantra going –
    “More disasters – as predicted (by climate scientists)
    “Another disaster – as predicted”
    -“as predicted”
    -“as predicted”
    -“as predicted”

    It will sink in. Once the doubt is created, it is almost impossible to get rid of it, particularly as the disasters just keep on coming, ME

  27. Colorado Bob says:

    The record event reports from the National Weather Service. All record event reports are in caps.
    Left hand column , scroll down click “Local” under the heading ” Climate “.

  28. Colorado Bob says:

    The Dice Metaphor –
    But we’re not adding sides to the dice, we’re dropping the one’s, two’s, and three’s ….. for seven’s, eights, and nines.

  29. Colorado Bob says:

    The Western Pacific is in for big trouble, because unlike us, their ground rises sharply from the ocean. A typhoon rained 10 feet Taiwan , three summers ago.

  30. Colorado Bob says:

    If one clear thing has come home this year, it’s the idea that hot water under ice melts it faster than hot air above ice. The thermal lag that water has, is catching up with the jump in the atmosphere.

    When this heat transfer in the oceans get’s done melting ice, that energy is moving into evaporation.

    If you go to Dinosaur, Utah on US 40, you can see the type of rains that can fall. A flood killed hundreds of dinosaurs, and piled their bodies in a bend in the river.

  31. Colorado Bob says:

    I think the type of rains we saw in Australia in the last year are our future, then it starts raining really hard.

    The Earth is going to cycle this new heat budget, and it’s going do it with water.

    The typhoon that just slammed Japan had recorded rainfall rate of 5.21 inches in one hour. 10 years ago this was unheard of, today it’s becoming common .

  32. Colorado Bob says:

    5.21 inches in one hour.
    There is no formula for exactly how much water can come from the sky.

    That is to say, it could rain 10 inches in an hour.

    That floats dinosaurs.

  33. Colorado Bob says:

    One last thing tonight .
    Notice where the Earth is taking the tropical cyclone that just missed us. To the Arctic, and it’s doing it as a cat #1 hurricane across the North Atlantic.

  34. Colorado Bob says:

    Hello Scotland –

    Buckle your chin strap.

  35. Colorado Bob says:

    In five years, these rainfall & hail rates will destroy in the insurance business.

    The place to watch them move first, car insurance, there are hundreds of thousands of cars that have destroyed by hail and floods this year.
    Cars and telephone poles , are being chewed to pieces. That chart will look like Mann’s “Hockey Stick” from now on.

  36. Michael T says:

    NOAA National Climatic Data Center released their report for August and the summer of 2011:

    Climate Highlights – August

    •The average U.S. temperature in August was 75.7 degrees F (24.3 degrees C), which is 3.0 degrees F (1.6 degrees C) above the long-term (1901-2000) average, resulting in the second warmest August on record. Precipitation averaged across the nation was 2.31 inches (58.7 mm). This was 0.29 inch (7.3 mm) below the long-term average, with large variability between regions.

    •The excessive heat which dominated June and July across the southern tier of the country continued into August. Six states — Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas— had their warmest August on record. Five other states had a top ten warm August — Florida (3rd warmest), Georgia (4th), Utah (5th), Wyoming (8th), and South Carolina (9th). The Southwest and South climate regions also had their warmest August on record.

    •During August, above-average temperatures dominated most of the United States. Only nine of the Lower 48 States experienced August temperatures which were near-average, and no state had an average August temperature which was below-average.

    Climate Highlights – Summer

    •The average U.S. temperature during the summer of 2011 was 74.5 degrees F (23.6 degrees C) — 2.4 degrees F (1.3 degrees C) above the long-term (1901-2000) average and the second warmest summer on record. Precipitation averaged across the nation was 7.25 inches (184.2 mm). This was 1.0 inch (25.4 mm) below the long-term average.

    •The unprecedented heat during the summer period (June-August) of 2011 across Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Louisiana resulted in these states having their warmest summers on record. Average temperatures for the summer in Texas and Oklahoma, at 86.8 degrees F (30.4 degrees C) and 86.5 degrees F (30.3 degrees C), respectively, exceeded the previous seasonal statewide average temperature record for any state during any season. The previous warmest summer statewide average temperature was in Oklahoma, during 1934, at 85.2 degrees F (29.6 degrees C).

    Check out the summer temperature record for Texas, which shows just how warm the summer of 2011 was compared to the 116 year record:

  37. David B. Benson says:

    Had enough yet?

  38. Paul magnus says:

    Rain drops the size of swimming pools…

  39. Paul magnus says:

    Even peak oil aside, extreme weather events will also sideline the airline industry ( along with many others )

  40. Colorado Bob says:

    Giant red crabs invade the Antarctic abyss

    Huge crabs more than a metre across have invaded the Antarctic abyss, wiped out the local wildlife and now threaten to ruin ecosystems that have evolved over 14 million years.

    Three years ago, researchers predicted that as the deep waters of the Southern Ocean warmed, king crabs would invade Antarctica within 100 years.

    But video taken by a remotely operated submersible shows that more than a million Neolithodes yaldwyni have already colonised Palmer Deep, a basin that forms a hollow in the Antarctic Peninsula continental shelf.

  41. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I hope that you are correct ME. I only meant that there is nothing we can do about MSM bias, which grows daily ever more extreme and absurd. I agree that we must say all we can to as many as we can. I also think that a lot of non-violent protest could be good, although I expect the penalties for that sort of action will swiftly be increased, and protesters labeled as ‘green terrorists’.

  42. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Just like Pakistan, where the rain was so intense that people six feet away disappeared from view as if enveloped by fog.

  43. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Sounds like a business opportunity, but we better get in fast, before those pesky Chinese. We cannot tolerate a ‘crabmeat gap!’.

  44. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Merrelyn –

    You’re right of course that we need to maintain the message of “as predicted” as peoples’ experience of extreme weather steadily rises.

    Yet those with the persistence to focus on climate education in daily life are still a small minority. There just aren’t a lot of us – far less than 1% in western populations ? We urgently need a ‘force multiplier’ if we are to significantly advance the date at which ordinary people start to enquire for themselves – and a sufficient minority get bloody furious at the culpable negligence and outright mendacity, and demand immediate radical diplomatic and industrial reform.

    I suspect that I’ve found a linguistic shift that could act as that force multiplier, and I’d appreciate your thoughts on it.

    While activists’ conversations are relatively few, the number of conversations between ordinary people about extreme weather-event experiences within their social circles has to be rising exponentially. But, given the manufactured polarization of opinion, at present the current tribal label ‘denier’ constrains assertions of AGW’s role in those events due to peoples’ normal dislike of confrontation in casual conversation.

    Recourse to the science is no great help, since for all science can quantify the statistical improbability of multiple events of extreme and rising amplitude, stats get a very poor rap with the public. The easy response of the deniers, shills and dupes is that it’s just random, these events are all “just flukes.”

    That denial of a pattern to the events is pivotal, for we are by nature pattern-seeking creatures – particularly when facing unfamiliar ruinous or lethal hazards. That claim of “they’re all just flukes” thus gets a bit weaker each time it’s used – and denialism lacks any better explanation.

    Therefore I suggest that we need to introduce the term “fluker” into the discourse to describe the ordinary dupes now serving corrupt denialism. It is a practical and innoffensive means to describe someone’s position, thus allowing ordinary peoples’ weather-conversations to advance, rather than changing the subject as it nears the touchy implications of ‘denial’. It is also of course the core of the debate – are the events actually all “just flukes” ?

    Moreover, accepting the title “Fluker” – (one who sees all the serial events as being just flukes) – also provides an easy portal for admitting honest error and accepting the science – particularly when dupes are shocked by the sheer elemental force of the weather events people are starting to experience. By contrast, people labelled as ‘deniers’ are in those circs more likely to retreat into outrage at “Warmists trying to use our suffering from this weather disaster for their political gain”.

    In short, we could harness many millions of climate-concerned people to discussing the issue widely within their circles, and steadily persuading hold-outs as the weather events intensify, if they were provided with inclusive language for the task. I’ve seen no more innocuous or more apposite term than ‘fluker’ for that role.

    So, how about it ?



  45. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    I’d really like to see that too – Maybe the staff at Munich Re could produce such a thing if they saw fit, but it wouldn’t be a simple image.

    First, there’s the 30 to 40 year timelag due to thermal inertia on emissions’ impact on global temperature, and
    second, there’s a cooling impact (sans timelag) of fossil fuels’ sulphate emissions, which then only reside in the atmosphere for about 2 years, and
    third, there are sundry effects like cryosphere decline, sink collapse, El Nino disruption, etc, that all have their effects at their own rates.

    Which is not to say it’s not worth doing. If I had my ‘druthers a well crafted scientifically impecable version of it would be on billboards – and put up as posters in every school and college.

    Maybe write to head of climate research at Munich Re ?



  46. iceman says:

    Trenberth’s statistic of 4% extra water vapor doesn’t sound (to us laypeople) nearly as bad as it is. What we need is to tie this more directly to tropical storm potential: a graph showing the increase in atmospheric moisture during the peak hurricane season of September. More important than water vapor per se is its latent energy content, so also show a comparison to the megaton equivalent of a big hurricane.
    I live near Binghamton and Septembers used to be fairly dry around here. Empathy with Frank @12.

  47. John McCormick says:

    RE # 14

    Colorado Bob, as warmer ocean water melts Arctic ice faster, there is more heat in the Arctic because the sea ice sink is not there to absorb it. More heat on the Arctic shore. More CH4 and CO2 released from the tundra and permafrost.

  48. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Hi Lewis, so they are called ‘flukes’ in your neck of the woods – interesting! I have not heard that terminology around here nor seen it in the Aussie literature.

    Here, ‘denier’ is I think, here to stay. It has become the accepted term. As the Minister for Climate Change said in response to his shadow who complained about being called a ‘denier’ – “When you stop denying the science, I’ll stop calling you a denier”.

    However, I frequently initiate conversations about climate change with ordinary people and always avoid labels of all kinds although I use ‘denier’ in my writing. These conversations are changing over time and are
    markedly different now from their shape even two years ago.

    You are right about our pattern making minds and that is our best hope – more and more people are seeing the pattern and sooner rather than later, even those wedded to the Murdoch mindlessness are going to experience the same sort of unease and dilemma that Asch’s participants experienced when confronted with a major discrepancy between their beliefs and those of the majority. They may get noisier and nastier but it won’t cure their growing unease.

    So I am in two minds about your suggestion. Part of me thinks that it could work for you in your linguistic environment but the other part of me doesn’t really believe it matters what we call it. While there is still polarization, the other side will always interpret their label as derogatory. I have seen so many deliberate changes in the language to avoid ‘offensive’ labels for Aborigines and women, for example, but as long as there is racism and sexism in belief and action, swapping labels is a mere superficiality, an ineffective form of social engineering if you like.

    So when all else fails, try empiricism! Try it out and see what sort of response you get, ME

  49. Nancy WH says:

    I too live near Bingo & we went from “20 year floods” to “2 x year floods.” We are hard working people & productive citizens, but all that goes out the window when you can’t get to work & your small family farm is flooded on a regular basis. Oh yeah our homeowners insurance just got cancelled cuz our barn got MORE damage in flood last April. We still have our homes & possesions which many do not, but we are tired of being labeled as “takers.” How much of a pay/benfits cut has any elected pol taken lately in these times of “shared sacrifice”?