Flash Flooding in St. Louis Turns Deadly

At least one person has died after the St. Louis metropolitan area experienced thunderstorms on Tuesday that dropped 2 inches of rain per hour.

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24-hour rainfall estimate for the St. Louis area as of 12pm on July 26th.
24-hour rainfall estimate for the St. Louis area as of 12pm on July 26th.
Image: National Weather Service

Flash flooding in St. Louis joins a recent streak of dangerous weather in the U.S., as several thunderstorms brought record-breaking rainfall to the area, leaving at least one person dead and several stranded.

With the barrage of high heat across the globe, you might think that some rain would be a nice respite, but in St. Louis the aggressive downpour quickly turned into a flash flood. The National Weather Service says that several thunderstorms dropped upwards of 2 inches (5.1 centimeters) of rain per hour to the St. Louis metropolitan area beginning early on Tuesday morning, which caused major flooding. St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson said in a briefing yesterday that city’s fire department conducted 70 civilian rescues related to the flooding. They also recovered a person, later declared deceased, from a car submerged under 8.5 feet (2.6 meters) of water.

“Communities throughout our region were devastated by last night’s record rainfall and flooding,” said St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones in a statement yesterday. “My heart goes out to all those families who were impacted, and I remain in consistent communication with our partners at the county, state, and federal governments. This declaration of emergency will help us get the resources we need to begin our city’s recovery.”

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The flooding caused widespread damage across the area, and broke several St. Louis precipitation records. The National Weather Service says that approximately 11 inches (27.9 centimeters) of rain fell across an eight-hour window between the areas of Hawk Point and St. Peters. The St. Louis-Lambert International Airport also clocked a new all-time high daily precipitation record in just a few hours: 8.6 inches (21.8 centimeters) of daily rainfall fell between midnight and 12 p.m. CT. This surpasses the previous record for the area, 6.85 inches (17.4 centimeters), which fell in 1915 during the remnants of a hurricane.

There’s no scientific attribution available yet on how climate change may have impacted this specific storm. But research has shown that a warming atmosphere is more likely to produce heavier rains, as warmer air can hold more moisture. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year found that heavier rains have become 30% more frequent around the world as the planet has warmed, and intense rainfall is likely to increase as temperatures keep going up.

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This week’s downpour in St Louis serves as a reminder that, even amidst summer droughts, wildfires, and heatwaves, climate-charged rainstorms can still be deadly. Last year, rains turned Detroit’s roads into rivers, flash floods destroyed Colorado highways, and Hurricane Ida’s intense storms killed nine people in New York City.