July 30 in Ellicott City, Md., began as a typical hot summer day. Founded in 1772 as a mill town along the bottom of a deep valley through which the Patapsco River flows, the city had seen plenty of serious floods. But July 30 proved to be anything but typical. That day, what the National Weather Service has called an "off-the-charts" thousand-year rainfall event (in terms of recurrence interval) occurred, creating chaos and destruction as flash floods ran through the middle of the city after more than 6 inches of rain fell in two hours. With little warning, Main Street became a turbulent river tossing cars, smashing storefronts, gutting small shops and leaving devastation, lost lives and massive sinkholes in its wake.
Adapting to a changing climate
News reports during the past year have detailed major weather disasters nearly every month, making what used to be once-in-a-lifetime events appear almost commonplace, and communities throughout the U.S. are facing increased drought or more intense storms.
Shorter, warmer winters have led to decreased snowpack and rapid spring melting, accelerating erosion and drying of grassland well before summer heat arrives. Weather-related emergencies such as rising sea levels, heatwaves, floods, hurricanes, windstorms, water surges, land subsidence and forest fires are increasing in frequency and severity. The result has been construction, electrical supply and transportation challenges unseen in our lifetimes.