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Research finds steady increase in Michigan rainfall intensity

Rain is in the forecast for much of Michigan.
Tom Grundy
Rain is in the forecast for much of Michigan.

In most of the United States, Michigan included, rainfall has gotten more intense.

The finding comes from a Northwestern University study, which examined rain intensity in 17 different regions across six decades.

The study — published Tuesday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters — looked not just at how much it rains, but also at how heavy downpours were. It found steady increases across every region studied, with the exception of the Pacific Coast and Rocky Mountains.

This increased intensity could have negative effects on agriculture, infrastructure, and natural disaster risk, according to lead author Ryan Harp.

“Having more intense rainfall and more variable rainfall can lead to less productive crops, so agricultural yield might decrease a little bit,” he said.

Infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, that was built under less severe climate conditions could also be at risk.

And, even with Michigan’s relatively low natural risk index, the rain could worsen the effects of landslides and floods.

Harp said these results line up with the weather patterns expected from the effects of human-driven climate change.

“Warmer air holds more moisture,” Harp said. “For every 1 degree Celsius the atmosphere warms, it holds 7% more water vapor. So these observations are consistent with the predicted effects of human-caused global warming.”

Emily is a junior at the University of Michigan double majoring in Communications and Creative Writing.
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