Rain, Rain Go Away

Kim Moldofsky is the publisher of The Maker Mom and STEM Kids Chicago.

It seems like only yesterday that we donned protective eye gear and looked up at the dazzling solar eclipse. I was fortunate to have witnessed the totality. It was an amazing event that passed by all too quickly. This week, nature is putting on a different and much less pleasant display in Houston and nearby areas. This show is terrifying and is lasting far too long.

Tropical storm Harvey turned into a hurricane and battered the Texas coast near Houston. Though downgraded, the immense storm is, as of this writing, moving slowly through the area causing unprecedented flooding.

Some classify the overwhelming volume of water as a 500-year flood. That does not mean that a flood like this will only occur once every 500 years, though. Nature doesn’t keep time like that, nor do our meteorological records go back that far. Rather, the term means that there is a 1 in 500 chance of having such a flood in any given year.

In theory.

In reality, according to the National Climate Assessment heavy rains are becoming more common. Even worse, extreme precipitation events now occur more frequently and at heavier levels than they did in the past.

What does this mean for cities?

Massive flooding is dangerous and can lead to injury and loss of life. But it also damages homes, workplaces and public infrastructure like roads, bridges and the power grid. The aftermath of flooding may lead to public health emergencies, such as dangerous mold growth, waterborne diseases, and mosquito born diseases. Flooding can also release and carry toxic chemicals from homes and businesses into the raging waters that people wade through and ultimately is dumped into waterways and onto other land. And also, in Texas, critters like fire ants and alligators wind up in places they shouldn’t be.

Of course, the economy loses out as well. In addition to the loss of personal property and wages, the floods destroy farmland and crops, commercial and industrial businesses, their inventories and equipment. Ultimately, insurance companies and governments take a monetary hit, and that financial burden ultimately spreads well beyond the site of the disaster.

Turn Problems into Opportunities

Clearly, there are a lot of serious problems that need solving. And who better to envision creative solutions than the young scientists in your classroom?

The first question might be whether our scientific efforts should go towards preventing further changes to our climate or towards remediating the problems that we will endure--especially in the world’s coastal areas--as a result of climate change.

Inspire your Students

In 2013, 11-year-old Peyton Robertson earned the title of America’s Top Young Scientist for his innovative sandbag that aimed to better protect property from flood damage. 2016 finalist Sara Makboul envisioned a product that aimed to counteract stormwater pollution.

Many young scientists have sought to stem the climate changes that lead to these unfortunate new weather patterns. For example, 2014 winner Sahil Doshi created an eco-friendly battery that could help lower greenhouse gasses while providing electricity for those in need.

Inform your Students

The National Severe Storms Laboratory introduces educators to a variety of resources geared toward students from kindergarten to college.

For middle school students and beyond, the Extreme Event Game is a simulation that requires students to look beyond the weather to community concerns and resources in the face of potential disaster.

Jet Stream, the online weather school from the National Weather Service, provides resources to educators, emergency managers and others interested in understanding weather and weather safety.

NASA’s Global Awareness Tour is another lesson with a unique spin. In this exercise, middle school students are must select concert locations for a global music tour. In order make solid choices, they need to research, interpret, and be able to explain general characteristics of weather in tropical regions, use data to understand patterns of flooding, dust storms, hurricanes and more.

With an awareness of weather and climate issues, creative and curious minds, and supportive teachers, today's young scientists provide a sense of hope for tomorrow.