Yesterday, May 1st, 2014, a huge amount of rain fell in Baltimore and caused a 120 year old retaining wall to collapse, sending cars, streetlights and sidewalk tumbling 75 feet down onto CSX rails. Thankfully no one was hurt, although houses on the block were evacuated. As the debris was being cleared up and more stories and videos of the collapse emerged, I was left with one burning question. Where did all this rain come from? Was it a freak occurrence, or should we be expecting more of the same?
Apparently Baltimore was not alone, as the same rain storm caused a similar incident in Yonkers, New York, where another retaining wall collapsed. We are used to hearing about areas like Louisiana experiencing heavy rainfall and flooding, but for the Northeast, this is a new thing. A recent study found a large rise in the number of “extreme precipitation events” in the Northeast United States over the past 60 years.
While the region the study examined did not include Maryland, another study found that between 1958 and 2011 the occurrence of “heavy downpours” increased by 74% in a Northeastern region that did include Maryland. The study also found that “heavy downpours” became more frequent in every region of the U.S. except Hawaii. While this coincides with a rise in temperatures in those regions as well, a link has not been made between the two events. The reason for the increase is due to an increase in water vapor in the atmosphere.
What is clear is that these deluges and floods are becoming more frequent, and that they will pose a challenge to our nation’s infrastructure. For tips on how to be prepared for events like this in the future, check out the links below.
- Red Cross flood preparation list.
- National Geographic flood safety tips.
- FEMA flood preparation and safety guide.