The waters will rise, this spring and in years to come

It looks like the devastating flooding in the Midwest is just the beginning of an unprecedented flood season, according to a statement from the National Water Center. As Vox reports:

“The extensive flooding we’ve seen in the past two weeks will continue through May and become more dire and may be exacerbated in the coming weeks as the water flows downstream,” said Ed Clark, director of NOAA’s National Water Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in a statement. “This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season…

Waterways including the Mississippi River and the Red River of the North are already soaked with precipitation levels that are 200 percent above normal. Alongside rapid snowmelt, heavy spring rains and ice jams have led to a massive, destructive rise in water levels.

We have an opportunity to make use of this tragedy. Rather than view it as a discrete disaster, we should recognize it as the latest episode in an ongoing series of climate impacts. In this case the series is flooding in the Mississippi watershed. We can be pretty sure this will happen again, and sooner rather than later.

With that in mind, the obvious question is, what are we doing about it? What infrastructure projects should we be undertaking? What changes do we need to make to building codes and insurance regulation? How are we going to make agriculture more resilient to flooding? What investments do we need to make now to ensure that the necessary emergency services are available during floods and recovery is faster and less expensive after them?

We’re going to become accustomed to flooding like this. What remains to be seen is whether we’ll be passive about it and take unnecessary hits to our communities and economy, or adapt to our new environment.

And we now have a new baseline from which to ask ourselves whether we want to continue emitting carbon and allow things to get even worse.