Unusually Usual:
Extreme Rainfall Events On The Rise

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Above: Michael Dutter describes rain patterns during Hurricane Mathew.

“It’s challenging, the short answer is that it’s challenging,” said Mike Dutter. “You get the sea water coming in through the mouth and up the storm water drains because of sea level rise, and then you have all the rain washing into the Bay.” Dutter, a science operations officer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was responding to a question posed by Dr. Tal Ezer a professor of ocean, earth, and atmospheric sciences at Old Dominion University about overlapping sea level rise models with high precipitation models. “We’re still working on it,” he added. “There are some efforts ongoing to overlap the tidal models with the precipitation models.

The exchange came at the end of Dutter’s presentation on modeling and managing extreme precipitation, the theme of the most recent Hampton Roads Adaptation Forum. With extreme precipitation becoming unusually usual, scientists are trying to develop prediction models so that cities that are prone to regular flooding might be able to anticipate when the next 25-year rainstorm will hit… something that is becoming a more regular event with climate change.

Organized by Old Dominion University’s (ODU) Assistant Professor of Practice for the Virginia Sea Grant (VASG) Climate Adaptation and Resilience Program Michelle Covi, and hosted by VASG, ODU, and the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission plan, these quarterly meetings bring together professionals in adaptation including local municipal government staff, scientific experts, private sector engineers, state and federal agency staff, NGOs and other stakeholders to facilitate regional coordination, information exchange and share adaptation best practices. The think-tank-like discussions have built a network of professionals that share information, adaptation lessons learned, and provide an opportunity for stakeholders to discuss science and policy in informal settings.


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“It’s challenging, the short answer is that it’s challenging."

One such person is Emily Elizabeth-Janssen Schlie, a PhD candidate working under the advisement of Drs. Ken Kunkel and Donald Wuebbles at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research has found there is a historical increase in extreme precipitation frequency for the eastern regions of the U.S. as well as a projected future increase through 2100. “I also looked at the seasonality of extreme precipitation and found projected increases in the winter months, and a shift of events from summer to spring in the models,” she says. What is unknown is whether more fronts are occurring or if frontal characteristics are becoming more favorable for these extreme rainfall events.

The forum has two main functions: 1. To provide an opportunity for up-to-date research on flooding and sea level rise to be presented to those who will be using it to make public policy decisions. 2. To provide opportunity for dialogue and networking between information providers and users, which allows for the deliberation and discussion of current research, the sharing of best practices between local government staff from different communities, and the identification of specific research needs in Hampton Roads that can be addressed by the regional academic community.

Covi said of the event, “With the lessons from Hurricane Matthew still fresh, it was great to look at how we might anticipate future precipitation flooding, and hear perspectives from academic researchers, the National Weather Service, cities dealing with these issues, and our private sector partners.”

A video recording and Power Point slides of the forum can be found here:

Photography and text by Ian Vorster.

“What is unknown is whether more fronts are occurring or if frontal characteristics are becoming more favorable for these extreme rainfall events."