Sunday, May 24, 2015

Epic Flooding Continues In Southern Plains Is Example Of Whiplash Weather -- Drought To Flood

Flooding in Amarillo, Texas in the past few days. From CNN. 
Another wave of incredible rains hit the southern Plains, especially in Oklahoma and Texas Saturday, Saturday night and today, causing huge new floods that are causing widespread havoc.

The region was in a long, severe drought until the rains came this spring, but this is way too much of a good thing.

It's now a bad thing, given the deaths,  property destruction, crop losses and other crises these storms are causing.  

The El Nino, which warms the eastern Pacific Ocean perodically seems to be coming into full bloom, and this pattern tends to create lots of wet weather across the southern United States.

Oklahoma City has logged 18.19 inches of rain so far in May, making this by far the wettest month on record. More rain is in the forecast there, but it won't be as heavy as the 3.73 inches of rain that inundated the city on Saturday, causing lots of damage to roads, streets, homes and businesses.

Record flooding is expected today in some rivers in Oklahoma and northern Texas.  Wichita Falls, Texas is bracing for record flooding, and more than 2,000 homes have been ordered evacuated. 

Flooding in Oklahoma City Saturday.
Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman 
There's been lots of trouble with people driving around barriers blocking flooded roads.

At least one woman in Texas died last week doing this. (It might have been in the person in the white vehicle in the dramatic video below, I couldn't tell from news reports if the video shows the vehicle of the 79 year old woman who drove around barricades blocking flooded Interstate 35 in Texas.)

Yesterday's torrents were accompanied by severe winds, tornados and hail in several locations. A num ber of homes were damaged by tornadoes in Blanchard, Oklahoma and Hays, Texas.

Lots more rain is expected in the next week, especially in central and eastern Oklahoma, the eastern half of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and as far north as Iowa. Several inches of rain will fall in these regions over the next few days.

This extreme drought to flooding event in the southern Plains is an example of something I've seen more and more of in recent years: Whiplash weather.

This refers to abrupt swings from one extreme to another, that might be fueled by climate change. Droughts are more likely with climate change in many areas.

However,  hot air holds more moisture than cooler air. So if the weather pattern changes so that winds shift to a direction to one that favors rain, the drought  not only ends, but a flood happens.

We saw this in 2013, when a severe drought in the Mississippi Valley abruptly turned into a big flood.

Abrupt temperature shifts are also on the upswing, it seems, New England suffered through one of its coldest Februaries and winters on record. Parts of the region are now seeing the possibility of the warmest May on record, or nearly so.

I also think we'll see more examples of weather whiplash in part because of the burgeoning El Nino. I'm not sure, of course, but that's my suspicion.

Here's the video of the vehicle being swept away in Texas:

Another video showing lots of flooding around Elk City, Oklahoma on Saturday.

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