No, WaPo, Climate Change is NOT Fueling More Devastating Rains and Flooding

Orignally posted at ClimateREALISM

A June 26 article in the Washington Post (WaPo) titled “The places in the U.S. most at risk for extreme rainfall” makes this claim in the subtitle “New data from the nonprofit First Street Foundation finds that climate change is fueling more devastating rains and flooding in parts of the country.” The claim is grossly misleading, because it is based on a model, and because there are factors associated with rainfall patterns and rainfall measurement that were not taken into consideration.

In the article, WaPo cites a climate advocacy group, First Street, as the source of the claim:

But in this area and others across the country, such devastating precipitation is becoming more common as the world grows warmer, according to new data released Monday by the nonprofit First Street Foundation.

In a new peer-reviewed model, the group says the U.S. government’s current precipitation frequency estimates, considered the authoritative source for planning and infrastructure design nationwide, do not fully capture the frequency and severity of extreme precipitation in a changing climate. What now qualifies as a “1-in-100 year storm” — in short, an event with a 1 percent chance of happening any given year — is already happening more often in some places.

Taking the study itself by nonprofit First Street Foundation, which has a history of publishing climate alarm predictions, with a grain of salt, the claim is based on a model output result, rather than actual measurements, using wet-biased input data with a short history. These two factors create a misleading result.

In the map provided for the WaPo article, seen in the Figure below, there are some interesting patterns:

Figure: estimate of extreme rainfall rainfall rates per hour. Source, First Street.

Note that the most intense areas are coastlines, such as the Gulf Coast, East Coast, and parts of the West Coast. This is not surprising, since these are areas next to oceans with the greatest amount of available precipitable water. 

In fact, that map really isn’t any different than the 30 year climatology of rainfall for the contiguous United States, except in the Houston area. That Houston anomaly can be explained by a single storm, Hurricane Harvey, the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States since 2005, which dumped more than 40 inches of rain in the Houston area. According to

The highest rainfall amount totaled 48.20 inches at a rain gauge on Clear Creek and I-45 near Houston Texas. It was the highest rainfall amount in a single storm for any place in the continental United States.

As we know from Climate at a Glance: Hurricanes, there is no observed climate change signal in hurricane numbers. Even the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change agrees, finding no increase in the frequency or severity of hurricanes. So, even that one-time intense rainfall on Houston from Hurricane Harvey can’t be linked to climate change.

So where does WaPo and First Street get the increase in rainfall severity from the rest of the country from?  Airports and short term data. In the study abstract, First Street says:

The NOAA Atlases have provided the standard precipitation frequency estimates (PFEs) for over two decades in the United States, but they are losing that status due to climate change. This study evaluates the Atlases compared to new PFEs developed based on the Automated Surface Observing System and Regional Frequency Analysis (ASOS-RFA) as a benchmark.

For those who don’t know, the Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) is an observation system jointly managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) designed to monitor airport runways, not climate change. Some, but not all ASOS systems record rainfall observed at airports. This is the rainfall data that First Street put into their model.

There’s two problems with using ASOS data. First, it has been established in another peer reviewed study in 2011 (which wasn’t cited by First Street’s study)  that the airport environment tends to give higher rainfall readings:

Researchers have found that areas near commercial airports sometimes experience a small but measurable increase in rain and snow when aircraft take off and land under certain atmospheric conditions.

“It appears to be a rather widespread effect for aircraft to inadvertently cause some measureable amount of rain or snow as they fly through certain clouds,” Heymsfield says. “This is not necessarily enough precipitation to affect global climate, but it is noticeable around major airports in the midlatitudes.”

The combination of aircraft exhaust (soot) acting as condensation nuclei, plus turbulence and mixing of the atmosphere by aircraft is apparently enough to create a cloud seeding effect, resulting in more rainfall at the airport.

So, the airport ASOS data First Street used in their model was biased higher from the beginning. And, since the trend for the number of commercial airport flights has seen a steady upwards rise over the last two decades, it is reasonable to assume that the effect on rainfall around airports has also increased. First Street and WaPo didn’t take that into account.

Plus, there’s the length of rainfall record that is questionable. According to NOAA’s ASOS User Guide, the implementation of ASOS didn’t happen until the 1990’s, which means that there’s only about 30 years (possibly less) of rainfall data to examine. Further, the other data source used in the study, Atlas 14, didn’t come into existence until about a decade ago according to the study itself:

This means that some data from Atlas 14 might even be less than a decade old. But, the long term rainfall data for the U.S. shows that it has been naturally increasing for a long time, seen in the figure below, something First Street didn’t mention. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has this to say:

On average, total annual precipitation has increased over land areas in the United States and worldwide. Since 1901, global precipitation has increased at an average rate of 0.04 inches per decade, while precipitation in the contiguous 48 states has increased at a rate of 0.20 inches per decade.

Finally, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) AR6 report, Chapter 11, Weather and Climate Extreme Events in a Changing Climate, concludes that changes in the frequency and intensity of most severe weather events (with corresponding intense rainfall) have not been detected nor can they be attributed to human caused climate change.

First Street really hasn’t discovered anything new, but what they did do is use biased and short term data to spin a claim that is not supported by any other climate science.

All in all, First Street did a shoddy job of science, ignoring older data in favor of data that gave them the result they were looking for. WaPo authors  Kevin CroweJohn Muyskens, and Brady Dennis apparently didn’t have the skills to critically review the claims made by First Street and published their claims without any critical review as if they were fact. WaPo did a shameful job of journalism, misleading their readers into thinking something that simply isn’t true.

Anthony Watts

Anthony Watts is a senior fellow for environment and climate at The Heartland Institute. Watts has been in the weather business both in front of, and behind the camera as an on-air television meteorologist since 1978, and currently does daily radio forecasts. He has created weather graphics presentation systems for television, specialized weather instrumentation, as well as co-authored peer-reviewed papers on climate issues. He operates the most viewed website in the world on climate, the award-winning website

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Rud Istvan
July 2, 2023 10:11 am

WaPo’s motto is ‘Democracy dies in darkness.’ Here we have WaPo providing the darkness, while AW provides the light on the matter.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
July 2, 2023 11:01 am

They’re killing it.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
July 2, 2023 12:18 pm

I’m torn about what WaPo really is. Should they just put a Democratic National Committee logo on their masthead or should they be considered a corporate PR rag for the government? Then again am I being redundant?

Reply to  Sean2828
July 2, 2023 5:32 pm

WaPo is the house organ in a company town.

Tom Abbott
July 2, 2023 10:58 am

From the article: “WaPo did a shameful job of journalism, misleading their readers into thinking something that simply isn’t true.”

Alarmists are reduced to making things up out of thin air.

I see a crazy climate change scare story. I come to WUWT to learn the truth, and leave well satisfied, and calm as a cucumber. 🙂

Walter R. Hogle
Reply to  Tom Abbott
July 2, 2023 11:59 am

Same every time there’s a groundbreaking climate change story about lack of snow, huge rain, heat waves, etc., I come to WUWT and they set the record straight. Models have never been and never will be better than the good old observational record.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Tom Abbott
July 2, 2023 1:43 pm

I need to get my ‘old sayings” straight: It should be “cool as a cucumber”. 🙂

Reply to  Tom Abbott
July 2, 2023 10:56 pm

I’ve never met an angry cucumber

Reply to  Tom Abbott
July 2, 2023 2:06 pm

Anything on any subject coming from the WaPo is a shameful job of journalism meant to mislead its readers into thinking things that just aren’t true. Reading their comments section will quickly reduce your IQ when you see how mentally-disordered these people are. I advise to avoid it unless you just are looking for some lame entertainment value.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  spren
July 3, 2023 2:29 am

“Anything on any subject coming from the WaPo is a shameful job of journalism meant to mislead its readers into thinking things that just aren’t true.”

Exactly right.

The Washington Post has no credibility. It is a propaganda organ for the Democrat Party.

Reply to  J Boles
July 2, 2023 4:12 pm

That is a classic misleading polling since it was based on a SINGLE ISSUE thus it appears to be a big deal but in multiple issue polls it would quickly fall to the bottom section of concern list thus a minor concern to the respondents.

July 2, 2023 11:10 am

Two iconic oxymorons –

military intelligence


model data

It doesnot add up
Reply to  Mr.
July 2, 2023 11:15 am

Once upon a time model data was something like 38 24 36… and 5’6″

Gunga Din
Reply to  It doesnot add up
July 2, 2023 1:31 pm

I once went out with a girl that 35-23-35 and 5’4″.
Nice at the time But I married a better one.
Nowhere near “model” measurements but, I have no regrets.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  It doesnot add up
July 2, 2023 6:48 pm

5’8″ at least.

It doesnot add up
July 2, 2023 11:13 am

Another Demolition Derby winner from Anthony. A complete deconstruction – well done.

Ron Long
July 2, 2023 11:50 am

Good job, Anthony, but you have some serious work ahead of you. The Biden Administration has just approved studying dimming the sun to combat climate change. Might be time for some civil disobedience.

Ben Vorlich
July 2, 2023 11:59 am

Somebody has been given the wrong hymn sheet!

Antarctic ice shelves have experienced only minor changes in surface melt rates over the past four decades, unlike the rapid increase in surface melt experienced by Greenland’s glaciers during the same time period, according to new research. The news is not cause for celebration just yet, though—the researchers expect Antarctic ice shelf surface melt rates to increase substantially in the coming decades due to rising global air temperatures.

Although they’ve hedged their bets as usual

Dave Fair
Reply to  Ben Vorlich
July 2, 2023 6:10 pm
The study is a bunch of bullshit.  No increase in Antarctic surface melt over over at least the last 40 years.  UAH6 from December 1978 through May 2023 has the decadal temperature trends for the South Pole as "-0.03 [overall,]  0.00 [land and] -0.04[ocean]" in ℃/decade.

Their speculated future warming is based on the unverified and historically inaccurate UN IPCC CliSciFi climate models that have inflaed ECSs (tropospheric hot spots) and driven by wildly improbable estimates of future CO2 production by Mankind.
Dave Fair
Reply to  Dave Fair
July 2, 2023 6:49 pm

Sorry, my cut and paste from Dr. Spenser’s spreadsheet didn’t work out. From December 1978 through May 2023 the decadal temperature trend for the South Pole overall is -0.03℃, for land it is 0.00℃, and for the ocean it is -0.04℃.

Future warming speculation is based on unverified UN IPCC CliSciFi climate models that have run 2 to 3 times hot historically fed with wildly improbable estimates of Man’s future CO2 production.

Gary Pearse
July 2, 2023 12:40 pm

“…devastating precipitation is becoming more common as the world grows warmer, according to new data released Monday by the nonprofit First Street Foundation.”

Non-profit!! What! Political activist lobbyists get tax free status as a charitable charitable institution!

Gunga Din
July 2, 2023 1:41 pm

It would seem that too many “journalist” never go beyond Wikipedia for historical information.

July 2, 2023 4:01 pm

thanks again Anthony…another fabulous breakdown that us non-scientist fans/readers can understand and learn from…and the comments from around the globe are also appreciated.

July 2, 2023 4:48 pm

I have a pet totally untested hypothesis that fewer pollutants in the air creates heavier rains. From grade school I was told that water molecules in the atmosphere need to stick to something in order to become rain. This was also the basis for cloud seeding.

If we have been successful in cleaning the air, wouldn’t that mean fewer opportunities for rain to occur, thus the weight of water in the air needs some other stimulant to trigger precipitation such as a front?

Sort of like the argument for why we have more severe fires, in that we no longer routinely allow smaller ones such where the kindling/tinder accumulates leading to mega fires.

Is this just a stupid childish conclusion or may there be anything to it?

(as for Hurricane Harvey, it was a garden variety hurricane that ran into a stalled front that did not allow the storm to move in the traditional way over the CONUS)

Pat from Kerbob
Reply to  AWG
July 3, 2023 8:12 am

I like the theory, would tie in with reduced pollution and possibly more rain.

And the Harvey thing was the same as the 2013 flood here in southern Alberta. A big rain storm but trapped for two days against the Rockies by the jet stream

Walter Sobchak
July 2, 2023 5:23 pm

The next article in the series will prove that drought is spreading all over the country at a perilous rate.

July 2, 2023 6:48 pm

Alarmists have no science to support CAGW all they have is climate models and anecdotal evidence. This is them stockpiling more anecdotal evidence. It doesn’t have to be true so long as it comes from a trusted alarmist news site. Won’t be long before this report starts being parroted.

Pat from Kerbob
July 3, 2023 8:06 am

“WaPo did a shameful job of journalism, misleading their readers into thinking something that simply isn’t true”.

I would suggest they did exactly as they were supposed to do, to support the narrative.

Reporting wrong information is always rewarded if it supports the narrative, that’s “science”.

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