Heavy rainfall floods multiple Chapman buildings this semester, expert says climate change could play a role

Views from Leatherby Libraries show Chapman’s gloomy campus amidst a heavy rain storm. Photo by Zac Nguyen.

Chapman could be getting a taste of the global climate change epidemic, as evidenced by the heavy rainfall this semester, according to an expert.

“With any short-term event, the exact meteorological conditions are the primary cause, but climate change is making heavy rainfall events more likely,” said Dargan Frierson, a climate researcher and Associate Professor at the University of Washington.

The California Irrigation Management Information System (CIMIS) weather station, located in Irvine, calculated a total of 6.6 inches of rain in the month of February. Although Chapman’s buildings are built in compliance to the guidelines set forth by the Building Standards Commission, the campus suffered water damages in the Hashinger Science Center basement, women’s locker rooms, the Leatherby Libraries basement, and more.

Despite rumors of flooding on the patios of Keck Center for Science and Engineering, Rick Turner, Associate Vice President of Facilities Management failed to confirm this information. Additionally, several faculty members inside the Keck building claimed to know nothing of flooding on the patios and ground floor.

“Chapman buildings are no more or less prone to flooding than other institutional buildings,” Turner said. “All of our Chapman Facilities are assessed on an annual basis to protect the asset from being susceptible to water intrusion. Every effort is used to reduce and minimize the damages from unknown weather patterns.”

Irvine CIMIS reports for the month of February have totaled 0.2 inches in 2016, 3.4 inches in 2017 and 0.4 inches in 2018. Although Orange County has experienced significantly more rain this year, flooding on campus has been occurring for years, according to Pamela Gibbons, Director of Athletic Training and Sports Medicine. This year’s damages were, however, are more severe than years past, Gibbons said.

Rainfall in Southern California tends to be highly variable, but this year’s rainfall totals were significantly higher than previous years, according to data from collected by CIMIS. Chart by Hanna Yorke and Maggie Mayer.

“The heavy rain events this season in California were ‘atmospheric rivers,’ where a large amount of water vapor was squeezed out within narrow filaments of rain,” Frierson said.

An atmospheric rivers is created when the jet stream intensifies into a “narrow region of strong winds and moisture-laden air,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

These events can contribute to up to 50 percent of the annual precipitation on the West Coast, NOAA states.

Heat-trapping gases emitted by human activities will cause a more highly variable climate, Frierson said. “In between heavy rain events, we expect more intense droughts.”

The annual rainfall from this year compared to last year demonstrates this highly variable climate. The annual total of this year to date is 20.2 inches, while last year’s total was only 3.9 inches, according to OC Public Works.

“With any short-term event, the exact meteorological conditions are the primary cause, but climate change is making heavy rainfall events more likely,” Frierson said.

Building regulations from years ago were not drawn up in anticipation of today’s rain dumps, Frierson said. “I’ll encourage anyone concerned with this to start locally, to better understand their own vulnerabilities and how to become more resilient.”

There is no permanent solution to the water damages our campus has been experiencing, said Turner. “Unfortunately, waterproofing materials and solutions all wear out over time, so we will continue to repair and replace them when those materials and solutions have reached their expiration.”

“This time around the entire locker room was flooded. The bathrooms and even the carpet at the front door was wet,” said Pamela Gibbons, director of athletic training and sports medicine. “In Hutton, the only thing that can be done is to place sandbags at the top of the ramp outside the emergency exit door. The water comes down the ramp and the back stairs like a waterfall.”

“Chapman takes the conditions of its facilities very seriously,” said Turner. “We continue to assess those conditions of our facilities with internal and external experts throughout the year.”

Facilities Management could have prevented the flooding in the women’s locker room by placing the sandbags on the ramp before it started raining, Gibbons said.

Although Facilities Management responded quickly to the water damages, women’s sports teams were inconvenienced because their belongings got wet. Classes held in the affected Leatherby classroom had to temporarily relocate.

“Building codes are the responsibility of state and local governments. Chapman is not in a position to change them,” said Turner. “However, Chapman works with its various consultants and engineers on best practices for building design on these matters. We are always looking for new options that meet the local and state jurisdictions with regard to code compliance, and we always monitor code authorities for the latest changes in regulations.”