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Climate Change Has Ushered in an Era of Record-Breaking Rainy Days

Some parts of the world are now more than 50 percent more likely to see record-breaking rainfall than they were before global warming.
Raindrops. Image: Wikimedia

Climate change doesn't just mean rising temperatures; it means higher sea levels, more extreme weather, and, seemingly perversely, more precipitation. Warmer air holds more moisture, so a carbon-stuffed atmosphere will lead to a world that's both hotter and wetter. A new study confirms as much: Scientists analyzed the days over the last century that saw record-breaking amounts of rainfall, and found that they'd become strikingly more common over the last three decades.


The study concluded that "there is now medium confidence that human-induced greenhouse gases have contributed to changes in heavy precipitation events at the global scale."

The paper, published in the journal Climate Change, finds that between 1981 and 2010, there were 12 percent more record-breaking rainfall events worldwide—and an astonishing 56 percent more in Southeast Asia, home to the annual monsoon event. In the central US, a record-breaking day of rain was 24 percent more likely; in Europe, 31 percent.

And these figures are only rising, as humanity continues to load the atmosphere with more and more greenhouse gases.

"One out of ten record-breaking rainfall events observed globally in the past thirty years can only be explained if the long-term warming is taken into account," Dim Coumou, one of the study's authors, said in a statement. "For the last year studied, 2010, it is even one event out of four, as the trend is upward." The scientists also calculated that there's a 26 percent chance that a new rainfall record will be attributable to climate change.

Naturally, there are some areas where record rainy days are declining, too, which should help highlight the disparity of change brought on by global warming—there were 21 percent fewer record-breaking rainy days in the southwestern US, and 27 percent fewer in the Mediterranean region. The scientists flagged both numbers as evidence of worsening vulnerability to drought, surprising precisely no one currently residing in California.

All told, the longterm forecast for those of us residing in already rainy climes is clear: Gear up for more rainy days. As is the case with so many things, Bob Dylan was right.