The Louisiana Flood Is What Happens When the Planet Gets Warmer


Last weekend, nearly two feet of rain fell on parts of southern Louisiana in the span of two days, leaving 11 people dead and over 20,000 in need of rescue. 

A storm of this caliber should only happen once every 500 years. But this marks the eighth event of its kind — joining floods in Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Maryland — according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And if the planet continues to get warmer, climate scientists think disasters like this will keep happening.

"We are in record territory," a letter from the National Weather Service in New Orleans read. The letter was prompted by the NWS launching a weather balloon, recording near record-breaking levels of atmospheric moisture, according to the Guardian.

That near record-breaking moisture build-up is caused by overall warmer surface temperatures, since warm weather makes it possible for the air to be filled with water vapor — hence the heavy, soaking storms, according to NOAA. And that opens the door for more floods down the road.

"We have been on an upward trend in terms of heavy rainfall events over the past two decades, which is likely related to the amount of water vapor going up in the atmosphere," Dr. Kenneth Kunkel of the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites said, according to the Guardian. "There's a very tight loop — as surface temperatures of the oceans warm up, the immediate response is more water vapor in the atmosphere. We're in a system inherently capable of producing more floods."

Max Becherer/AP

The scary part is how fast the planet will probably get warmer. Last July was the hottest month in recorded history, a combination of El Niño ocean warming and man-made global warming.

When humans create greenhouse gases by doing human things, like burning fossil fuels, it creates a gradually thickening layer of those gases. That layer prevents heat from leaving the planet, meaning the heat just bounces between the atmosphere and the surface, perpetually heating up the planet. And that explains why Earth is on course for having its hottest year on record for the third year in a row.

The floods in Louisiana are the direct result of a warming planet that don't need the sophisticated explanations offered by climate scientists and NASA geniuses — though, obviously, that input is important. This is global warming you can see: Humans burn fuel to create gas; gases trap the heat; the heat allows the air to fill up with water vapor; and the water vapor eventually creates fat, thick rain drops that pummel towns and leave residents dead.

So if you ever wonder what global warming actually does, ask someone in Louisiana. They'll tell you all about it.