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As storms multiply, Connecticut faces possibility of extreme flooding later this summer. Rainfall is 7 inches above average for July.

Hartford Courant logo Hartford Courant 7/20/2021 Eliza Fawcett, Hartford Courant
a pile of hay with a car parked in front of a tree: A tree rests on cars at a home on Colonial Drive in Somers after a tornado touched down for 7 minutes Sunday evening. © Mark Mirko/The Hartford Courant A tree rests on cars at a home on Colonial Drive in Somers after a tornado touched down for 7 minutes Sunday evening.

Unrelenting rainfall. Flooded rivers. Inundated farmland. Connecticut has seen unusually heavy, damaging rain in recent weeks, in what climate experts say may be an indication of the extreme weather events that will become more frequent with climate change.

a fire hydrant sitting on the side of a lake: Flood waters cover a bike trail along the Hockanum River on Monday. © Mark Mirko/The Hartford Courant Flood waters cover a bike trail along the Hockanum River on Monday.

While the recent pattern of rainfall “should be breaking,” according to Gary Lessor, chief meteorologist at the Western Connecticut State University Weather Center, Connecticut may continue to see heavy flooding this summer.

Joe Furey, co-chief meteorologist for WTNH News 8, warned that Connecticut has already seen four storms come up the East Coast this year — and the height of Atlantic hurricane system is still a month and a half away.

“We’re going into the height of the tropical season and we can’t handle any more water,” he said. “We’re setting ourselves up for extreme, catastrophic flooding in parts of the state if these tropical systems, or remnants thereof, come and get us as we head through later August and into September.”

a close up of a garden: Ellington, Ct. - 07/19/2021 - Fields adjacent to the Hockanum River in Ellington are flooded after heavy weekend rains. Photograph by Mark Mirko | mmirko@courant.com © Mark Mirko/The Hartford Courant Ellington, Ct. - 07/19/2021 - Fields adjacent to the Hockanum River in Ellington are flooded after heavy weekend rains. Photograph by Mark Mirko | mmirko@courant.com

Abnormal rainfall

At Bradley International Airport, rainfall measurements are just 1½ inches away from surpassing the highest-ever monthly rainfall record, said Bob Cox, a meteorologist with WTIC 1080 AM. The monthly record of 11.17 inches of rain was set in 2009. This July has already seen 9.6 inches, more than seven inches above the average level.

“We’re within striking distance of setting the all-time record for rainfall at Bradley,” Cox said. “For the month of July, it’s unusually wet.”

Since June 1 of this year, Connecticut’s official recording station at Windsor Locks has measured 12.41 inches of rain, Lessor said. The normal rainfall level is approximately half of that, at 6.56 inches. And last year, during a bone-dry summer, only 1.68 inches of rain were recorded in that time period.

“We certainly had a lot more [rain] than last year,” Lessor said. “Last year we were in moderate droughts for most of the summer.”

Statewide, since the beginning of the year, Connecticut has seen 29.28 inches of rain, compared to a normal level of 24.45 inches and last year’s level of 18.05 inches. The rain has mostly been concentrated in the state’s northern counties, including Litchfield, Hartford, Tolland and Windham Counties, Lessor said, where some towns have seen three inches of rain on a daily basis.

This month ranks as one of the wettest Julys on record in Connecticut, Furey said. He noted that the state’s wettest July, in 1938, had 11.42 inches of rain, followed by a devastating Category 3 hurricane that ripped through New England that September.

Climate change link

The extreme weather that Connecticut has experienced recently is not an anomaly, climate experts say, but can be linked to oceans warming as a result of climate change.

“The warmer these oceans get, the more moisture the atmosphere can handle and the bigger the flooding situations, the bigger the storms, the bigger the hurricanes,” Furey said. “That’s why we get very worried that we’re setting ourselves up right now for major flooding.”

A NASA study released in 2018 demonstrated a connection between the warming of tropical oceans and more frequent extreme rainstorms.

Connecticut’s heavy, damaging rainfall has occurred as other parts of the world experience devastating extreme weather conditions, including a record-breaking heat wave in the Pacific Northwest last month that, by one estimate, killed one billion sea creatures; destructive flooding that ravaged parts of Central Europe last week; and massive wildfires that continue to rage in the Western United States.

“You’re having the Northeast extremely wet, you’re having Europe with the extreme flooding, you’re having the fires out West and into Canada, so that all is contributing. Because of global warming, you tend to get more extreme weathers,” Lessor said.

While parts of Connecticut reckon with uncommon flooding, Lessor said it is likely that in the future the state will swing back to the opposite end of the extreme weather pendulum.

“I do expect at some point that we’re going to be on the extreme dry end and talking about a drought in the Northeast that’s unprecedented,” he said.

Eliza Fawcett can be reached at elfawcett@courant.com.

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