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Twice as many mega rainstorms in Midwest in past 50 years

Wisconsin saw the biggest rise (203 percent) in extreme rainstorms – 3 inches of rain or more in a day, new study says. Climate change is behind more Midwest flooding, say scientists.

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Flooding caused by strong thunderstorms in Hilbert, Wis., on Thursday, May 3, 2012. A new study bu Rocky Mountain Climate Organization shows a 23 percent rise in precipitation in the Midwest.

(AP Photo/Calumet County Emergency Management, Matthew Marmor)

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The number of extreme rainstorms - deluges that dump 3 inches or more in a day - doubled in the U.S. Midwest over the last half-century, causing billions of dollars in flood damage in a trend climate advocates link to a rise in greenhouse gas emissions.

Across the Midwest the biggest storms increased by 103 percent from 1961 through 2011, a study released by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Natural Resources Defense Council reported on Wednesday.

States in the upper Midwest fared worse than those in the south part of the region, the study found, with the number of severe rainstorms rising by 203 percent in Wisconsin, 180 percent in Michigan, 160 percent in Indiana and 104 percent in Minnesota.

In Pictures: Extreme Weather 2012

Illinois saw an 83 percent increase in extreme storms, Missouri had 81 percent, Ohio 40 percent and Iowa 32 percent, according to the study.

"The increase in extreme storms, because of the linkage to flooding, probably represents the Midwest's greatest vulnerability to climate change," said study author Stephen Saunders, president of the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization.

Overall annual precipitation for the region rose 23 percent between 1961 and 2011, the study found, using data from weather stations.

The worst flood year during the period was 2008, followed by 1993. Those two years saw the worst Midwest flooding since the 1930s, Saunders said by telephone.

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