Thursday, May 23, 2013
PORTLAND - It might come as no surprise in Brownville, but heavy rain and snowstorms have been getting worse in Maine for years.
Dr. Johan Erikson, a professor of environmental science at Saint Joseph’s College, answers a question about increased rainfall during a news conference at Portland City Hall on Tuesday. A new report examines trends in severe rain and snowstorms.
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer
For more than 60 years, actually.
Just five weeks after torrential rain plowed through Brownville and other central Maine towns, the advocacy group Environment Maine released a study Tuesday documenting that "extreme downpours" of rain and snow have been increasing for well over a half-century in Maine -- and all of New England.
The study contends that the dramatic storms will become even more intense and frequent in years to come, causing untold human casualties and billions of dollars worth of property damage.
"When it rains, it pours -- especially in recent years as bigger storms have hit Maine more often," said Ben Seel, clean energy organizer for Environment Maine, who presented the findings of the study at Portland City Hall. "We need to heed scientists' warnings that this dangerous trend is linked to global warming and do everything we can to cut carbon pollution today."
Environment Maine is a statewide group that advocates for clean air, clean water and open spaces. The 43-page study was funded by the Frontier Group, an environmental think tank in Santa Barbara, Calif.
It is one more warning by an environmental organization about global warming, linking increasing temperatures (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the last half-century) to problems including drought, worsening pollution, poor crop yields, higher food prices and threats to human health.
The report examines trends in severe rain and snowstorms from 1948 to 2011 and says the storms, known as "extreme downpours," are fueled by increased evaporation and the ability of a warmer atmosphere to hold more moisture.
The report is based on data from 3,700 weather stations and a methodology developed by scientists at the National Climatic Data Center and the Illinois State Water Survey. It identifies storms with the greatest 24-hour precipitation totals at each weather station and analyzes when those storms occurred.
The report also examines trends in the amount of precipitation produced by the largest storm each year at each weather station.
During the last 64 years, New England suffered more often from the growing storms than any other part of the country, with an 85 percent increase in the number of significantly more intense snow and rainstorms. In Maine, the storms occurred 74 percent more often than in the mid-20th century.
New England has experienced the phenomenon to a greater degree in part because it is in the path of several major storm fronts.
"And the biggest are getting bigger" as storms get more intense and damaging, Seel said, noting that flooding causes "the greatest damage in the U.S. -- more than any other (type of) natural disaster."
Environment Maine estimated that losses from extreme storms in the U.S. in 2011 totaled as much as $8 billion in damage to property and crops. Floods alone caused 100 deaths last year.
In Portland, the wastewater system has been strained by increased runoff from intense storms. The city has emptied sewer lines during particularly heavy rains, discharging raw sewage into Casco Bay along with storm runoff.
Portland is not alone in struggling with the problem; it occurs in hundreds of communities around the country.
"There's no question that ... weather patterns are changing," said U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, who spoke at Tuesday's presentation. "It's time we woke up and did something about it."
Climate change "is not good for agricultural production," she said, and the fallout from devastated harvests "will lead to higher food prices ... and food insecurity" for the nation.
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