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Thunderstorms hit the Dallas-Fort Worth area Sunday night into Monday and dropped massive amounts of rain in the span of 18 hours, inundating streets, flooding homes and forcing some drivers to abandon their vehicles in high water. A 60-year-old woman died in Dallas County when her vehicle was swept away.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins has declared a state of disaster in the region based on preliminary damage assessments, allowing the area to use available state resources to respond. Jenkins has also requested federal assistance.
Gov. Greg Abbott also directed the Texas Division of Emergency Management to increase the readiness level of the state’s emergency operations center to support communities impacted by the flooding.
The flash floods, which in some cases are considered life-threatening, have prompted rescue efforts. The Dallas Fire Department alone has responded to hundreds of car crashes and other water-related emergencies since 6 p.m. on Sunday. Dallas emergency management officials are reporting high water over many roadways and are advising residents in the area against travel.
The National Weather Service has issued a flood watch for North Texas through 8 p.m. Monday, and for Central Texas through 7 p.m. Flooding is beginning to recede in North Texas, and the heaviest rainfall is shifting into Central Texas.
Central Texas is seeing 2 to 4 inches of rainfall per hour and could see “considerable flooding” if heavy rainfalls persist into Monday evening, said Matthew Brady, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Austin/San Antonio. The cold front is expected to then move southward towards the Coastal Plains.
Some parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth area recorded more than 10 inches of rainfall on Monday. The east side of Dallas saw 15.1 inches of rainfall over the past 24 hours, according to a reading from Dallas Water Utilities. Rainfall amounts of at least 14.6 inches in East Dallas qualify as a 1-in-1,000-year flood, which means that in any given year it has a 0.1% chance of happening, according to current precipitation frequency estimates from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Texas’ precipitation frequency estimates were last updated in 2018. NOAA rolls out updates when the agency is able to acquire funding.
“As we get more intense rain events in short periods of time on account of climate change and global warming, these should probably be evaluated or reevaluated in standard intervals rather than what we have haphazardly right now, whenever we can collect enough money,” Victor Murphy, the National Weather Service program manager for the Southern region headquarters, said.
The rainfall in Dallas on Monday is also enough to break the one-day rainfall record from July 2004, when a flood station at Joe Pool Lake reported 12.05 inches of rain, John Nielson-Gammon, climatology professor at Texas A&M, told the Dallas Morning News.
Thunderstorms are expected to continue into the week. It’s a striking contrast from just a few days ago, when much of the state had gone weeks without precipitation. Some regions, including the Dallas area, have been in an extreme drought for months. WFAA reported that houses are taking on water in Balch Springs, a suburban city in the Dallas area where a grass fire destroyed nine homes just last month.
But the wetter weather this week won’t be enough to end the state’s drought, as drier conditions are expected to continue into the fall and likely in the winter.
The rise in average temperatures brought by climate change can strongly affect extreme precipitation events by increasing the intensity of rainfall during storms, climate scientists have found. Such events could become more frequent in the coming decades as the effects of climate change worsen.
In Texas, rainfall intensity has increased by about 7% since 1960. And the risk of extreme precipitation events across the state is increasing even as the Western half of the state has generally seen a flat or declining trend in precipitation totals over the past century, according to a 2021 report by the state’s climatologist.
Texas could experience 30% to 50% more events of extreme rain by 2036 compared to 1950-1999, the report found.
Scientists have also found that significant flooding and extreme rain events are more frequently following droughts than they have in the past, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment. Both the frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation are expected to continue increasing across the Southern Great Plains, which includes Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.
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