A breached levee on the Arkansas River, a common sight this spring.
A breached levee on the Arkansas River, a common sight this spring.
Photo: AP

In April, the U.S. set a record for the wettest 12 month period in history. According to new government data, that record lasted all of a month.

The National Centers for Environmental Information released its monthly climate report on Thursday. The state of the American climate: absolutely soaking. The soggy situation, which was driven in large part by prolific storms this winter and spring, is indicative of how the climate continues to change.


Over the past 12 months, the U.S. has seen an average of 37.68 inches of precipitation. That bests the record set last month, of 35.47 inches. The new record was helped thanks to prodigiously soggy May, which was the second wettest month recorded in the U.S. since record keeping began in 1895 (May 2015 holds the all-time record for the wet weather stans out there).

This could be the point in the story where I write a bunch of innuendos, but really the soaking the U.S. has dealt with isn’t a laughing matter. Serious storms in March have precipitated a flooding crisis in the Midwest, putting farmers, tribes, and other communities underwater in the literal and financial sense. Bizarre May storms wreaked havoc in California and spawned 500 tornadoes and flash flooding from Texas to Pennsylvania. Levees have failed up and down the Midwest, letting water rush into towns across the region. The heavy rain is taking a very real, multi-billion dollar toll on the U.S. economy. And the widespread flooding points to the need for better water management, a need which will only become more acute as the climate continues to change.

Indeed, the heavy rainfall events that have precipitated so much of the flooding crisis are a prime indicator of climate change. A warmer atmosphere can hold more water, and so it shouldn’t be any surprise that heavy rainfall has become more common and extreme. Nearly every state has seen an increase in the number of extreme rainfall events, according to analysis done by Climate Central. Winter precipitation is also falling as rain rather than snow as temperatures rise. That also means more rain falling on snow, which can hasten snowmelt similar to what we saw in the Midwest this year.


Unfortunately, the impacts may not be over. The prodigious amounts of water working down rivers toward the Gulf of Mexico could spawn a massive dead zone later this summer.

Managing editor, Earther

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