The Slatest

The D.C. Area Got a Month’s Worth of Rain in One Hour

Waters nearly cover a park bench along the river near a bridge in Washington
A park bench sits under water along the Potomac River in Washington on Monday. Jim Watson/Getty Images

“The swamp” is slowly draining after a deluge of heavy rain during the height of the morning commute led to flash flood warnings and rising waters in and around the nation’s capital. The flooding closed roads, stranded drivers, canceled buses, suspended Amtrak service, and created waterfalls in the city’s subway system.

In the 9 a.m. hour alone, 3.3 inches of rain fell at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport just outside the city. The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang noted that Monday became one of the wettest days in July dating back to 1871.* Nearly a month’s worth fell in just an hour.

Emergency services across the region reported dozens of water rescues and stranded motorists. The D.C. Fire Department said they rescued some 15 people from cars stuck in high water, some in the few blocks between the White House and the Washington Monument. Neighboring Arlington County, Virginia, and Montgomery County, Maryland, said they rescued more than 50 people from cars, houses, and apartments. There have been no reports of fatalities.

It wasn’t just drivers who faced problems Monday. Riders at the Pentagon’s Metro stop faced a flooding elevator shaft, and at Virginia Square a heavy torrent of water poured in from the station’s arched roof onto the subway tracks below. Local bus service closed entirely in Alexandria and Arlington. Even the White House basement began leaking, and the tunnel between the Capitol and the nearby Rayburn House Office Building was briefly closed.

While a single storm can’t be attributed to climate change, extreme downpours like the one that hit Washington are becoming increasingly common, according to the U.S. government’s 2018 National Climate Assessment, and they’re becoming more severe. Communities like Ellicott City, Maryland, have been repeatedly slammed by heavy flooding, and in the Midwest, farmers are still struggling after record floods this spring. The amount of rain falling in the worst 1 percent of storms has risen by 55 percent in the Northeast and 42 percent in the Midwest since 1958. As extreme downpours become more common in wetter parts of the country, dryer parts of the country like the Southwest and Southern Great Plains will also see more extreme droughts.

Monday’s storm is a reminder that extreme downpours are another warning sign of what is to come as the Earth continues to warm. Meanwhile, the president and GOP lawmakers who have advocated to “drain the swamp” refuse to acknowledge human-caused climate change. Maybe they’ll catch on before they need a boat to get to work.

Correction, July 8, 2019: This post originally misspelled the name of the Capital Weather Gang.