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May 8·edited May 8

I had a career in civil/environmental engineering in which I often dealt with the design of flood protection and stormwater drainage facilities. As such, I relied on historical data on rainfall intensitiy versus duration for specific locations that had typically been reliably collected over a period of less than 100 years. From this data, the standard practice was to estimate the streamflow that would occur with some probability per year. A common probability for flood protection was 1/100 per year, often referred to as a "100 year event."

I observed the results of many such events (and larger) occurring much more often than once every 100 years, and came to realize that there were reasons for this other than climate change. A major one was the lack of public understanding that such extreme events will occur at many relatively small areas throughout the U.S. every year. Actual damages are multiplied by a combination of insufficiently conservative design of facilities, and inadequate regulations limiting development in areas subject to flooding. In addition, immediate nation-wide reporting on these events, complete with graphic video, expands the public perception that the problem is becoming worse.

While I think that climate change actually is increasing the frequency of these extreme events in some areas of the country (such as the Gulf Coast) the primary solution should be to apply more conservative criteria in design, such as designing critical facilities for forecasted less frequent events, and with "factors of safety" such as those used in structural engineering to account for unknown factors. In other words, critical infrastructure and the people who use it should be better protected, regardless of whether climate change is modestly increasing the frequency of extreme weather events.

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