Much of the South and Eastern U.S. was hit by heavy rains over the last few days, with the panhandle of Florida and southern Alabama getting drenched by more than two feet of rain in 24 hours.
On Wednesday, Pensacola, FL experienced its rainiest day ever recorded, receiving almost as much rain, as the Salt Lake Tribune points out, in 24 hours as L.A. has gotten since January 1, 2012. At least 300 people had to be rescued from the waters in Florida, with some people forced to climb up to their roofs or attics to escape the water, and at least one person died after driving a car into the floods. Escambia County spokesman Bill Pearson told the Weather Channel that officials described the flooding as the worst they had seen in 30 years.
At least 30 people in Mobile, AL also had to be rescued. In Gulf Shores, AL, as nearly 21 inches of rain fell in one day, compared to the 3 to 7 inches the panhandle are received during Hurricane Ivan in 2004. In Florida, a suspected gas explosion at a prison that killed two inmates and injured around 150 people could be linked to flooding.
The Florida rains left widespread damage, destroying or submerging multiple roads and bridges and washing away a back of a house. The region is used to hurricane warnings, but residents weren’t ready for the extreme flooding, Pensacola resident Cindi Bonner told CNN.
“You have time to prepare for a hurricane,” she said. “This was not something that anyone had prepared for.”
Torrential downpours like Florida and Alabama residents experienced this week are predicted to become more common as the climate changes and are already on the rise across the U.S., especially in the last 30 to 50 years. As air heats up, it’s able to hold more water vapor, with every degree C of warming generally leading to an atmospheric water vapor increase of 7 percent. The water vapor takes longer to condense and fall to the earth as rain in the warm air, and when it does condense, there’s more of it available to fall.
But while the East Coast was pummeled by rain this week, several western and Midwestern states remain in severe drought. California received some rain over the last few days, but water supplies in reservoirs and canals in the state are still low. As of last week, for the first time in 15 years, every last inch of California was in a drought.
A wildfire broke out earlier this week in Los Angeles, and the southern part of the state has already experienced unseasonably high temperatures for this time of year. Parts of Texas, too, have been hit by a heatwave, with Corpus Christi International Airport reaching a record-breaking 100° on Monday. Drought, too, is expected to become more common as the climate warms, and an April study found a link between California’s severe drought and climate change.