Dust storms, high winds, droughts may impact Midwest agriculture long term


Via Flickr

Grace Smith | June 24, 2022

Wind gusts up to 70+ mph, dry cropland, and a thunderstorm with high winds created a haboob, or a large and intense dust storm, in Northwest Iowa on May 13. The haboob was a part of a larger aggregate of thunderstorms traveling through Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, and both North and South Dakota. This haboob and other windy conditions in the Midwest cause major problems for soil. 

Wind traveling through dry cropland unearths crops and soil in and on the ground. During a study by Texas-based erosion specialist Chris Coreil at the beginning of May, high winds and droughts caused farmers to lose soil anywhere between three to 29 tons per acre in South Dakota. The haboob erosion estimates were similar, with estimates of up to 12 tons of lost soil per acre in South Dakota. 

And the extreme temperature doesn’t appear to be ending soon. Climate change is causing an increase in precipitation and an increase in droughts, which will harm soil and agricultural practices. 

One way to combat these high winds and drought conditions is with a crop cover, which right now, only 3-5 percent in most states own a cover. The U.S. Department of Agriculture released an announcement in January expanding services and opportunities for “climate smart agriculture,” and has a goal of crop covers protecting 30 million acres of corn and soybean land in the U.S. by 2030.

Extreme heat, flooding affects agriculture significantly


Via Flickr

Grace Smith | June 23, 2022

Agriculture, which is one of the most important aspects of Iowa and surrounding economies, is experiencing many challenges because of climate change and extreme temperatures including a negative impact on livestock and crops, as well as a decrease in revenue

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said that climate extremes have a large negative impact on yield and livestock productivity in Iowa. In addition, the 2019 Iowa Climate Statement said confined livestock stuck in severe heat conditions are at a greater risk of death. Not only does this present itself as a problem in Iowa, but also in Kansas. On June 15, the heat killed over 2,000 cattle in Kansas, a portion of the Great Plains, which remains in a drought because of extremely high temperatures. Parts of Kansas hit up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit last week, which assisted in the deaths of the cattle. 

The heat is not the only thing affecting agricultural practices in Iowa. Flooding has caused issues including a loss in revenue for farmers. An IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering study from the University of Iowa, which was published April 26, 2022, found that in a 2-year return period, or a span of time when an occurrence is likely to surface, cropland has a 50 percent chance of flooding in a given year. The study also said that annually, Iowa loses $230 million in seed crops because of farming in areas that are likely to flood. 

Members of the industry have adapted in many ways. Seed providers have altered hybrid corn and made it more tolerable to drought and heat. In addition, farmers have reacted to an increase in precipitation by utilizing quicker planters that can move across a field faster. But, without technological changes to combat climate change in the Midwest, productivity could decrease significantly.

Iowa Climate Statement 2021 Read by Presenters


Since 2011, researchers and educators at nearly every college and university in Iowa have produced annual statements to communicate in plain language the state of climate science and the impacts of climate change on Iowans. 

The video above shows the 2021 Climate Statement read aloud by those who worked on it. They warn about extreme temperatures, floods, droughts and extreme storms.

The presenters also share what can be done to help prevent some climate disasters. This includes changing infrastructure to accommodate for extreme weather patterns.

All Detectable PFAS Chemicals in Iowa Exceed Heath Advisory


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | June 21, 2022

The treated drinking water of a northeast Iowa city had nearly 3,000 times the safe amount of PFAS chemicals when it was tested in February, according to new federal advisories announced last Wednesday. 

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has been sampling water in dozens of cities in the past year to help determine the pervasiveness of PFAS or “forever chemicals.”

They have been used for decades to make non-stick and waterproof products, firefighting foams and other items. Recent studies have shown that they can accumulate in people’s bodies over time and can cause numerous ailments, including cancers, liver damage, diminished immune systems and infant and childhood development delays, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In 2009, the EPA set a safety threshold of 70 parts per trillion for the two most-prominent PFAS. On Wednesday, it lowered the health advisory of one of them to .004 parts per trillion and the other to .02 parts per trillion. Current testing technology is unable to detect concentrations that small.

The DNR’s testing can detect concentrations as small as 1.9 parts per trillion. That means that one of the PFAS would have to be 475 times the safety threshold before it is even detected.

2019 Iowa Climate Statement projects high temperatures in Iowa


Via CGRER 2019 Iowa Heat Wave Graphics

Grace Smith | June 20, 2022

The 2019 Iowa Climate Statement released on Sept. 18, which was backed by 216 Iowa science faculty and researchers from 38 Iowa colleges, projected dangerous heat to be more frequent and severe. The statement and graphics explain the need for preparedness in the coming decades. Weather reports and projections say above-average temperatures in Iowa are likely to occur in the next few months.

Between 1976 and 2005, the number of days in a year with temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit was 23. The Climate Statement predicts that between the years 2036-2065, the average days with temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit will be up to 57 days in a low emission scenario, or 68 in a high emission situation. 

July 2019 was recorded as the hottest month in Iowa for 140 years. But, nationally, in July 2021, the combined land and ocean surface temperature was 1.67 degrees Fahrenheit above the average in the 20th century, which normally sat at 60.4 degrees. This increase set a record for the hottest July, nationally, in 142 years. 

And temperatures will continue to increase. The National Weather Service and the Farmer’s Almanac, which has formulated annual weather predictions for over 200 years, said Iowa’s summer will be drier and hotter than normal, including above-average temperatures. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Association released a 2022 Aug., Sept., Oct., forecast prediction on June 16 and said there is up to a 40% change increase in average monthly temperatures. Almost the rest of the U.S. is also likely to increase in temperature, with no predictions of decreasing. 

Iowa City will experience hot days this week up to 96 degrees Monday and 99 degrees Tuesday.

Great Salt Lake drying up negatively impacts air and environment


Via Flickr

Grace Smith | June 17, 2022

Climate change and population growth are drying up the Great Salt Lake, located in Salt Lake City Utah, which is affecting the air and environment around the lake. Since 1980, the lake has shrunk two-thirds in size. In 2021, the lake reached a new record low in average daily water levels, decreasing one inch below the previous record low in 1963, according to U.S. Geological Survey data.

Animals are greatly affected by this alarming issue. Around 10 million migratory birds feed on flies and brine shrimp that live in the Great Salt Lake. As water levels drop, salt levels increase, becoming too salty for the lake’s algae, killing the shrimp and flies who feed on the algae. This then affects the numerous birds that eat the flies and shrimp. The drying up of the lake also affects the air and the citizens that breathe it. The bottom of the lake contains a mixture of arsenic and heavy metals, and as the water dries up, windstorms start to circulate these poisonous metals into the lungs of 1,260,730 people in the Salt Lake City metro area.

In addition, the Wasatch Front, an area home to 2.5 million people between Provo and Brigham City in Utah, utilizes the Jordan, Weber, and Bear rivers which feed on snowfall from nearby mountains, for water and agricultural purposes. Population growth has more citizens in these cities using the three rivers as their water sources at the same time as higher temperatures turn snowfall into water vapor instead of liquid. This creates a major problem for farmland that needs more water to combat high temperatures to feed the growing communities near the lake. 

Utah state lawmakers have made it mandatory to include the topic of water in their long-term planning, according to Euro News. In addition, Laura Briefer, director of Salt Lake City’s public utility department, said during a news conference that although the city, which is expected to increase in population by 50% by 2060, needs water, recycling wastewater and pulling from groundwater can increase the water supply for the fast-growing city without taking away water flow into the Great Salt Lake.

Crop Planting in Iowa is Virtually Done


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | June 16, 2022

Corn and soybean planting in Iowa is done, for the most part. Some farmers were forced to consider replanting fields damaged by severe weather during the past week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Monday.

Hail that was three inches in diameter was reported in Greene County and one-inch hail fell on part of Polk County. Hail and significant straight-line winds were reported in southwest Iowa, Glisan reported.

Hail and heavy rain has led some farmers to replant damaged crops. Some of the replanting is not complete yet. A heat wave this week and next is expected to dry out wet fields. 

A large swath of northwest Iowa is abnormally dry or in a moderate or severe drought. The driest area is near Sioux City, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. 

About 95% of the state’s corn crop has emerged, which is one day ahead of the five-year average, the USDA report said. About 84% of the state’s soybeans have emerged, two days ahead of the average.

Flooding in Montana closes Yellowstone National Park


Via Flickr

Grace Smith | June 15, 2022

Over 10,000 visitors evacuated Yellowstone National Park as floodwaters demolished houses, bridges, and roads at Yellowstone and in nearby communities. Over 3 inches of rain and 5.5 inches of melted snow from high temperatures caused mudslides, flooding, and the closure of the National Park for at least a week. The combination of rain and melted snow created a 14.5-foot rise in sections of the Yellowstone River. Superintendent of the park, Cam Sholly, said in a news conference on Tuesday the northern area of the park is likely to remain closed until October or November. 

Yellowstone and southern Montana are at a higher risk of flooding because of climate change. According to the Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment, a scientific report on temperature and precipitation trends and projections, the Upper Yellowstone Watershed has increased in temperature by 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1950. In addition, since 1950, springtime rain has increased by 20 percent while streamflow from rivers has increased between 30-80 percent.

There is more risk for Yellowstone National Park with a 7 percent increase in annual precipitation by mid-century and mean annual temperatures are projected to increase 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2061-2080, under RCP4.5, a system and idea put in place to inform research.

Des Moines Water Works Using Nitrate Removal System for the First Time in Five Years


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | June 14, 2022

Des Moines Water Works has had to begin operating its nitrate-removal system for the first time in five years after finding elevated nitrate concentrations in their water. The level of nitrate in the utility’s water supply fluctuates, and is attributable to excess nutrients on upstream farmland running off the land and entering Iowa’s rivers, lakes and streams.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water Standard for nitrate is 10 milligrams per liter, and the nitrate levels in the rivers and groundwater used by the Des Moines Water Works have recently peaked at more than nine milligrams per liter.

The Water Works’ nitrate removal facility initially began operating in March 1992, but was last used in 2017. Drier conditions the past few years have limited the flow of nutrients into Iowa’s waterways, which has led to lower levels of nitrate in raw source water. 

Use of the nitrate-removal system is significant because of what it means in terms of water quality and because of the expense. It can cost up to $10,000 a day to operate the nitrate-removal system, the Des Moines Water Works says.

The Des Moines Water Works is Iowa’s largest drinking water utility and provides drinking water to one-fifth of the state’s population.

Corn Planting is Ahead of Schedule After Early Delays


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | June 8, 2022

Corn farmers have gone from at least two weeks behind schedule to three days ahead, according to a new U.S. Department of Agriculture report on Monday. After early delays, there has been a successful rush to plant. 

That report estimated that 98% of Iowa’s corn crop and 94% of soybeans have been planted, which compared to the five-year average is three days ahead for corn and six days ahead for soybeans.

A rush in planting means farmers’ concerns have expanded. They’re determining when to apply their first herbicides, checking for pests and contending with varying weather conditions since the timeline is different from past years. 

As of Thursday, nearly three-quarters of the state was sufficiently wet to avoid designations of abnormally dry or drought. About 9% of the state was in moderate or severe drought, focused near Sioux City.

In a weekly report about farmers’ progress, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig noted severe storms damaged young crops last week.

Longer-term climate predictions say it will get drier this summer, and it’s likely for drought conditions to develop across much of Iowa, with the exception of far eastern parts of the state, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.