Chas Jones, Ph.D.

Potential research: Floods and climate change-Boulder, CO

How do changes in climate and associated weather patterns affect flooding?

Potential research: Floods and climate change-Boulder, CO

In mid-September 2013, the region around Boulder, Colorado experienced severe flooding when 15 inches (38 cm) of rain fell across the area in less than 48 hours. It was a magnificent event that some have estimated to be a 1000 year flood event.  What caused this particular flood event to be so incredibly large?  Was it climate change?  Did we (humans) interfere with other aspects of the landscape to amplify the event? Or was it some natural phenomenon like El Nino or La Nina that was expressing its influence?

It would be a very tenuous argument to declare this particular rain event was caused by climate change. Even though, climatologists frequently state that we should expect extreme events (i.e. flooding or drought) to occur more frequently in the future, they can’t really pin down a particular cause for specific weather related events.

The nexus of flooding and climate change is one of my primary research interest areas, however, as we can model how different climate scenarios might influence the flood characteristics of particular watersheds.  We can also model how changes to the jet stream and related weather patterns may affect precipitation, runoff and flooding. In the southwestern U.S., what would happen if winter precipitation events were received from the south rather than the pacific northwest? How might that influence runoff and or flooding in spring? How might reservoirs in the southwest be affected by altered precipitation patterns? What would those changes mean for water policy in the southwest?

The questions are endless, but I find them fascinating.  Hopefully, one day I will find myself in a position to get at some of the big questions revolving around floods and climate change.

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