Severe weather events here to stay in Tennessee thanks to climate change

Posted at 5:55 AM, Jan 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-19 08:15:00-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tennessee's more frequent snowstorms cause weather experts to cite climate change and call on city leaders to consider adjusting infrastructure planning to account for changes in the weather.

By the third week of January, Tennessee broke snow averages for the season.

"Things that we're starting to see happen that we had been warning could happen for a while. Looking back to several years ago, and the East Tennessee wildfires from the drought that we were in, devastating wildfires that we experienced. We have seen devastating tornadoes, more so than what we were used to seeing just in the last couple of years throughout Middle Tennessee, in southern Kentucky," explained NewsChannel 5 Meteorologist Henry Rothenberg.

He said development and car emissions also create a change in temperature.

"It is definitely one of these things with climate change we've been talking about it, but we are starting to see, you know, much more significant wildfires, stronger storms, bigger winter weather events," he explained.

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NewsChannel 5 Meteorologist Henry Rothenberg

Vanderbilt University Civil Engineer Assistant Professor Hiba Baroud invested much of her career as a civil engineer trying to prepare cities for changes ahead.

"We are interested in understanding how infrastructure and people react and respond, behave during disasters. And these disasters happen as a result of a hazard which is the natural hazard, in that case, that is the weather, but also, it's when that natural hazard intersects with our vulnerability as people or the vulnerability of infrastructure when it's not well maintained. [The] intersection of these two can lead to a disaster," she explained.

She said it is crucial that the main infrastructure systems within a city system communicate and plan together to avert such disasters.

"Any kind of infrastructure, whether it's roads or transportation or the power grid or water distribution system, any form of receptor system has specific designs with respect to that that would withstand the environmental conditions," she said. "And so that's why it's important when you're planning for the future is to incorporate that future environment and our planning today."

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Vanderbilt University Civil Engineering Associate Professor Hiba Baroud

Beyond her work as an engineer, she also studies the changing Arctic and how it affects life beyond.

"The sea ice melting is resulting in all kinds of changes. And to think that it's just the Arctic’s problem. Is not–it's actually not true, essentially, it's affecting the whole world," explained Baroud. "And so, sea ice melting and the warming Arctic is definitely affecting the Arctic significantly, but it's also having effects on the rest of the world and us here in the South that is affecting us in these types of events, as we've seen last couple weeks [in Tennessee]."

She explained although the world is "warming" as the term "global warming" suggests, it is the bursts of air from the Arctic scientists say could be causing the recent cold spells.

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Baroud said the January snowstorms in Tennessee were a "good wake-up call that we need to plan for everything able to not only just plan for the expected outcome but also the unexpected."

The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) said a significant piece of their mission centers on "the operation of the system in all weather conditions, including inclement weather... Over the past 7 years, TDOT has worked to modernize its snow response equipment fleet, and TDOT staff work year-round to maintain the fleet at a state of readiness for all inclement weather events."

The Department said it reviews its budgets annually and its performance during major storm events. TDOT also said it maintains open lines of communication with other states and agencies to ensure it has industry information and knowledge to carry out best practices across the state.

"I think the growth for Nashville and really across the country, I think, you know, weather, you got to remember, it's a big puzzle," said Rothenberg. "What's happening over here is going to somehow impact over here which will impact up here which can impact you know, here in Middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky. So, it's not just specifically here, but it's growth all around as well as a number of variables and contributors to the environment. Like I said, car emissions, various co2 gases, things like that, that factor in that yes, we'll continue with this trend."