Connecticut residents living along the state’s largest river are under an extended flood warning thanks, in part, to heavy rainfall far north of the state. Recent research indicates this is going to be a more common experience in the future.
The National Weather Service (NWS) out of Boston issued a flood warning this morning, stretching down the entire Connecticut River. The area has been under flood advisories for most of the week but the NWS extended a flood watch for all of northern Connecticut on Thursday afternoon.
The forecast calls for moderate flooding in Harford, Middle Haddam, and Thompsonville, as well as point north into Massachusetts. Minor flooding is expected in Wethersfield, Glastonbury, and Rocky Hill.
Those warnings are in effect through late tonight and into the start of the weekend. The river is expected to fall back to normal levels on Sunday. An update is expected late Thursday evening.
The NWS is cautioning anyone in the affected areas to be cautious if they have to be out driving. Don’t drive through standing water when you don’t know the depth, as you can become stuck or get swept away. “Most flood deaths occur in vehicles,” says the warning.
In addition to causing dangerous conditions, flooding can also affect the state’s farmland. In an interview with CT Public on Wednesday, Connecticut Department of Agriculture commissioner Bryan Hurlburt said that his agency had already seen around 2,000 acres of state farmland underwater.
This most recent bout of flooding is a result of heavy rainfall pummeling much of the Northeast. In nearby Vermont that rainfall has resulted in massive floods. Rescue crews have spent the week freeing residents of the state who were trapped by the floodwaters.
Connecticut also suffers from heavy rainfall in New England’s northern states due to its position at the bottom of the river. As the river swells from rainfall to the north, those waters then travel down into Connecticut and swell the river here. This also happens during the spring, as snowfall in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts melts and flows into the river.
Heavy rains are also expected Thursday night, Friday, and into Saturday, adding to the high water levels across the region.
This is the latest bout of unseasonable weather this year. An unusually wet summer joins a strangely mild winter, a late spring frost, and early summer drought conditions to make for an unpredictable first half of 2023.
In an updated prediction model released in June, the First Street Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to “Make climate risk accessible, easy to understand and actionable for individuals, governments, and industry,” claimed that major flood events are likely to increase dramatically across the country. Their model attempts to update the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Atlas14 predictor to better account for climate change results.
The model, according to First Street, indicates that 100-year floods – severe flood events that are predicted to happen once in 100 years – are likely going to occur every 8-10 years. The Northeast is among the most heavily impacted areas of the new model, along with Houston Texas, parts of California, and the Ohio River Basin.
This tracks with other available data. In a survey of NOAA data from 2015, Climate Central found that Connecticut saw some of the largest increases in precipitation over the last 50 years, coming in fifth in the nation and third in the Northeast.
In Connecticut, around 61% of the population lives in an area at risk of coastal flooding. More residents live along the Connecticut River, putting them at risk of inland flooding like that seen this week. Projections provided by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) claim that the state is at risk of losing up to 24,000 acres of land to rising sea levels in the next 50 years.
In addition to potential loss of life and agriculture, major flooding also poses a threat to critical infrastructure and increases the risk of water contamination.
With an increase in the frequency of major storms, flood mitigation and resilience planning are expected to become increasingly crucial. Dozens of projects are in the planning stages in cities and towns across the state. These projects include everything from building green spaces to major sewage and drainage updates to replacing paved areas with absorbent surfacing.