NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — After a wild month of severe weather and deadly floods, NewsChannel 5 took an in-depth look into why experts say climate change played a factor.
Days like Wednesday make explaining climate change only slightly more challenging. Sunny and mid-70s sound perfect, but Middle Tennessee knows all too well how quickly things can change.
Parts of Humphreys County saw as much as 17 inches of rainfall in under 24 hours in what was one of the deadliest floods in state history. Twenty people died and the damage left behind was well into the millions.
Dr. Janey Camp of Vanderbilt University has made it her passion to study flood mitigation. Part of this means is knowing why we see crazy rainfalls more often. It also means educating families and communities on why it’s important to study your flood risk.
You’ve heard of global warming. Camp says it’s the best way to explain the chaotic weather patterns. She knows the term “warming” often throws people off, even though studies show Earth is getting hotter every year. She instead prefers the term, “global weirding,” because different parts of the world experience different extremes when it comes to weather. Some places will get colder and stay colder longer, while the opposite is true across the globe.
“The common word you want to think about is energy,” Camp said.
The more energy we use, whether in the car or at home, the more we send the byproducts into our atmosphere. These greenhouse gasses eat away at the Earth’s protective layer from the sun.
“Which makes the storms more intense. There’s more precipitation being held. The storms are moving a little differently than what we’ve historically seen,” Camp said.
She says that’s why we hear things like 100-year rainfall every other month because these are only probabilities based on what’s happened. It’s not that these rain events should only happen once every 100 years. It’s that there’s only a 1% probability that we see this amount of rain in a given year based on historical data.
Camp says this is why researchers are trying to update this outdated terminology for something more accurate.
There will of course be skeptics who don’t believe in the science and it’s not unlike the distrust we’ve seen over the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine. Just as there’s a risk assessment with COVID-19, there exists a risk assessment with climate change.
“Your values, personal history, and experiences are informing your risk perception and ultimately your decisions,” Camp said.
Some may read this and think there’s nothing we can do to change our environment, but Camp says that’s far from the truth.
It starts with the little things like not driving as much. The less we rely on energy, the less energy is needed to meet demand. Even things like buying local food, means supplies don’t have to travel as far. Most importantly, Camp says we need to invest in flood insurance whether you rent or not. Any time you're anywhere near a body of water, Camp says we need to do a better job of thinking ahead and preparing for the future. If not for us, then maybe for those who come after and the perfect days they hope to see.