Deadly flash floods hit Alabama as U.N. warns of water crisis sparked by climate change

Flash flooding across much of Alabama late Wednesday into Thursday has left at least four people dead, stranded motorists and inundated homes and businesses after a weather front stalled out and dumped as much as 13 inches of rain in a single day, the National Weather Service reported.

The latest extreme downpour comes in a year that already has seen scores killed across the U.S. in storms that scientists have concluded have been made worse by climate change.

In central Alabama, the flooding took the lives of a 4-year-old girl in the town of Arab, the Marshall County coroner’s office said, and an 18-year-old woman whose body was found near Union Grove. Two people were killed near the town of Hoover after floodwaters swept cars off roadways, local NBC affiliate WVTM reported.

“Last night the City of Hoover experienced unprecedented intense rainfall that caused flash flooding in numerous areas. Several of these areas have not experienced flash flooding in the last 20 years,” the Hoover Fire Department said in a written statement.

On Wednesday, a report by the United Nations World Meteorological Organization warned that much of the world is unprepared for worsening flash flooding, hurricanes and droughts caused by climate change.

“Since 2000, flood-related disasters have increased by 134%, and the number and duration of droughts also increased by 29%,” the report stated.

The report looked at the totality of challenges that climate change poses to the world’s water cycle, including access to clean drinking water, and suggested numerous recommendations to address each consequence as well as the underlying cause — the burning of fossil fuels.

“As we change the climate, we have learned over the last many decades that we are also going to fundamentally change how much water we get and where we get it, the intensity of storms, rainfall patterns, the severity of droughts and floods, the demand for water from crops and from our natural vegetation,” scientist Peter Gleick, co-founder of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, Calif., and a leading expert on how climate change is affecting water, told Yahoo News.

This summer, with extreme drought continuing to worsen across several Western states and with flash flooding ravaging communities in the South, Midwest and Northeast, the effects of climate change came into focus for many Americans.

More than a foot of rain fell in Birmingham, Ala., on Wednesday night, leaving many residents stranded and needing to be rescued, while the weather service in Birmingham sent out urgent messages warning of the dangers outside.

As the Earth's average temperature continues to rise due to the buildup of greenhouse gases, so does the amount of moisture in the atmosphere because of increased evaporation. Every degree Celsius of temperature rise equates to 7 percent more moisture in the atmosphere, studies have found. Under certain conditions, that moisture will be unleashed, making storms like the one that hit Alabama on Wednesday even worse.

A flooded neighborhood
A flooded neighborhood in Pelham, Ala., on Thursday. (Jay Reeves/AP)

For Alabama resident Jill Caskey, there was little time to react to the deluge on Wednesday.

“Water was coming in the car so fast I had to bail out the window,” she told Her car had stalled in the floodwaters and she had to be rescued by police.

Unlike the many warnings issued by researchers affiliated with the U.N., the situation Caskey found herself in gave her little time to react.

“It really happened so fast I didn’t have time to think about it,” she said.


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