Millions in damages from 2020 Derecho coming out of farmers’ pockets


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Elizabeth Miglin | July 28, 2021

The derecho and drought last year destroyed $802 million in corn, soybeans and pastures with farmers absorbing nearly one-third of the losses, according to a new report.

The American Farm Bureau Federation is lobbying congress for additional disaster aid for US growers due to insurance being unable to total cover the cost of damages. Federal crop insurance covered $560 million in losses leaving $243 million in damages farmers were responsible to pay for out of pocket. 

Across the country, damages caused by natural disasters totaled $6.5 billion last year. Federal crop insurance is only able to cover around $2.9 billion in losses with $3.6 left to farmers. Farm Bureau crop damage estimates do not include other ag losses such as loss of livestock or additional equipment costs farmers experienced. Regardless, it was the fourth-most expensive year of natural disasters since 1980, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The derecho’s powerful winds reached 140 mph on August 10 as it traveled 770 miles across eight states. While most of the damages to homes, businesses and farmers centered in Iowa and Illinois, total damage reached $11.5 billion. 

U.S. Representatives Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, and Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, voted in favor of an $8.5 billion disaster bill to provide coverage for the derecho and other high wind events which the House agriculture committee approved Tuesday according to the Des Moines Register. The bill would provide assistance to farmers and ranchers seeking natural disaster assistance for last year and 2021. 

Iowa climate scientists predicted extreme summer heat, extreme rainfall expected


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Elizabeth Miglin | July 27, 2021

In 1991, scientists accurately predicted climate change would lead to a warmer and wetter Midwest in the spring and summer. Now, 5-day heat wave temperatures in Iowa are anticipated to increase around 7° F in an average year and 13° F once per decade, in comparison to the late 20th century. 

The impact of these findings go beyond weather patterns, degraded public infrastructure is one major ways everyday life will be altered by the new climate. In 2018, a group of climate scientists and researchers from across the state focused the Iowa Climate Statement on infrastructure to emphasize their concerns. In the statement, they explain how daily total rainfall is expected to double in intensity by 2025. 

Flooding along Iowa’s eastern and western borders in 2019 alone resulted in $1.6 billion in damages, according to the Des Moines Register. “…This type of flooding in this region is expected to become even more likely in the future if we do not take immediate actions to cut greenhouse gas emissions,” said University of Iowa Researcher Wei Zhang

Scientists recommend buildings be designed to withstand heavier rain by integrating rain screens, large gutters and downspouts. For the hot summer greater insulation, improved ventilation, planting of shade trees and more are needed.

Since 2011, the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research has co-produced an annual Iowa Climate Statement to explain the impact of climate change on Iowa. Released in early October early, nearly every Iowa college and university has agreed to the statement. 

Severe Storm Hit Central Iowa Friday


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Josie Taylor | July 12, 2021

Friday afternoon through Friday evening, The National Weather service warned central Iowa that “all modes of severe weather may be possible including damaging winds, very large hail, and even tornadoes.” 

The severe thunderstorm warning was issued for Polk County, southwestern Story County, northeastern Madison County, southeastern Boone County and eastern Dallas County Friday afternoon. 

Luckily, this severe storm ended up being quite elevated, so it was not close to the ground. This meant that tornadoes were not touching down in central Iowa on Friday. Hail, however, did occur and was the size of a half-dollar. 

The hail occurred inside of a severe thunderstorm which produced heavy rain, thunder, lightning, and strong winds. 

The National Weather Service called Friday’s storm “dangerous” and told central Iowans to prepare for “large destructive hail capable of producing significant damage.” Officials also warned that residents should shelter inside a strong building and stay away from windows. 

This storm was a drastic change for central Iowa. The counties affected by the storm were all in moderate to severe drought just days before. In fact, Des Moines, which is in Polk County, was just asked to conserve water last week because of the severe lack of rain.

Iowa Experiences Intense Weather Patterns


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Josie Taylor | June 30, 2021

Iowa crops are experiencing an intense weather pattern this summer. Despite rain over the past week, some parts of Iowa are still in need of more moisture in order to benefit crops. Some storms were so severe it ended up causing damage to crops. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said that the moisture is very needed, however there were flash floods in southeastern Iowa. 

This past week the average precipitation state-wide was 2.13 inches, when the weekly average is 1.09 inches. Prior to this week, over 90 percent of Iowa was experiencing abnormal dryness, and 44 percent of Iowa was experiencing severe drought. This is a drastic change. 

Northwest Iowa has reported to have inadequate soil moisture in over two-thirds of topsoil. In the opposite part of Iowa, the southeast, 60 percent of topsoil is adequate to surplus. 

Despite the intense changes, crop conditions have been stabilized, and 60 percent of Iowa corn is in good to excellent condition. Soybeans are also blooming earlier than past years. 

Gov. Kim Reynolds has given approval for state resources to be used in order to recover from the effects of this severe weather. This can apply to qualifying individual residents who are damaged by the weather.

Carbon-Capturing Pipelines are Being Proposed in Iowa


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Josie Taylor | June 14, 2021

A Texas based company called Navigator CO2 plans to build pipelines across Iowa that can capture carbon dioxide emissions from ethanol, fertilizer and other industrial plants. Iowa’s Bruce Rastetter’s Summit Agricultural Group has also put out plans to capture carbon emission. CEO of Navigator Matt Vining, along with president of Summit Ag Investors, Justin Kirchhoff, did an interview with the Des Moines Register.

Both companies have the same goal of stopping carbon dioxide emissions from reaching the atmosphere. This would ideally stop carbon dioxide emissions from contributing to climate change. The companies will do this by liquefying the carbon dioxide, and then injecting it into a rock formation under the ground. 

Vining told the Des Moines Register that once the carbon dioxide is injected into the rock formation, it will be there permanently. Kirchhoff said their project can cut carbon emissions from ethanol plants in half. 

Vining commented on the controversial nature of pipelines. In the past, oil and gas pipelines have been opposed by many, including Indigious American communities. Vining this is different because, “Capturing CO2 from the environment is in the public’s best interest … it’s a public need”.

Neither company has an exact layout for where the pipelines will be. 

UI Researchers Develop a New Model to Measure Air Pollution from Soil By Using Satellites


Elizabeth Miglin | June 9, 2021

Researchers at the University of Iowa Technology Institute (ITI) have developed a new model to measure air pollution from soil using satellite data. 

Led by visiting ITI scholar Tong Sha, the study focused on nitrogen oxides (NOx) derived from soil (SNOx). Traditionally, NOx are thought of as emissions from combustion of fossil fuels however, scientists suspect SNOx may be increasingly responsible for poor ozone air quality, especially in agricultural areas. Although existing data to support this belief is lacking, the research started at the University of Iowa has led to a new assessment model which may yield more accurate estimates of SNOx. 

The new model updated the Weather Research and Forecasting simulator and chemistry, known as WRF-Chem, in order to improve an SNOx estimate scheme. With this, the researchers used an array of satellite sensors including the Global Precipitation Measurement to measure precipitation, Soil Moisture Active Passive to measure soil moisture and temperature, and others to show for the first time from space the increase of SNOx right after the fall of rain on dry soil. 

Although the research focused on rural California, its findings apply to rural cropland areas in Iowa and elsewhere. The study found around 40% of California’s NOx emissions are from soil and in the cropland areas SNOx emissions exceeded human-source emissions. Furthermore, the team found SNOx emissions are responsible for an additional 23% surface ozone concentration in California as a whole. 

The study was published on May 18th in the scientific journal Environmental Science & Technology. 

Sea Ice is Thinning Faster than Previously Thought


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Josie Taylor | June 7, 2021

Sea ice thickness is found by measuring the height of the ice above the water, but this measurement can be thrown off by snow. In order to adjust for this, scientists have been using a map of snow depth in the Arctic that was made decades ago and does not consider climate change. 

In research published by The Cryosphere, scientists and researchers used a new computer model designed to estimate snow depth as it varies year to year, instead of the old map. They found that sea ice in key coastal regions was thinning at a rate that was 70 to 100 percent faster than had previously been thought.

Robbie Mallett, the PhD student in Earth Science at the University of London who led the study said, “The thickness of sea ice is a sensitive indicator of the health of the Arctic. It is important as thicker ice acts as an insulating blanket, stopping the ocean from warming up the atmosphere in winter, and protecting the ocean from the sunshine in summer. Thinner ice is also less likely to survive during the Arctic summer melt.”

Mallett also mentioned that one of the reasons why it is thinning quicker than they had thought is because snow is forming later and later in the year. 

Co-Author and Professor, Julienne Stroeve, said that there are still uncertainties in their model, but this is a closer look at accuracy than what was previously had. 

Another group of researchers at the University of Colorado looked at ice thinning as well with their new research model. They found that ice was thinning 70 to 110 percent faster, similar to the research group mentioned earlier. 

Biden to Suspend Oil and Gas Leases in Alaskan Wildlife Refuge


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Elizabeth Miglin | June 2, 2021

The Biden administration is suspending all oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in order to take a deeper look at the environmental impacts of drilling in the region, the Interior Department announced on Tuesday. 

The Refuge is a 1.6 million-acre stretch of tundra on Alaska’s North Slope and is home to endangered polar bears whose population have been in dramatic decline due to diminishing sea ice. The region also provides important calving habitat for the Porcupine caribou herd.

Under the Trump administration, the Bureau of Land Management began administering an oil and gas program in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. The opening of the coast to drilling signified the culmination of a four-decade-long effort by the oil industry to gain access to the refuge. The lease sale on January 6, 2021 resulted in 10-year leases on nine tracts covering more than 430,000 acres according to the Department of the Interior. Imposing more restrictions on development in the region or ending the leases altogether would undo a signature policy of the Trump administration. 

The suspension of the leases follows the Biden Administrations official review of the activity in the Refuge. The review found multiple defects in the Record of Decision supporting the leases, such as the lack of analysis of a reasonable range of alternatives and other legal deficiencies. The suspensions, notably, do not go as far as environmental groups might hope as they do not void the leases all together. However, the initial executive order to review the leases left open the possibility the department would establish a new environmental review process to address legal flaws in the program itself. 

Biden Doubles FEMA Funding to Support Proactive Programs


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Elizabeth Miglin | May 26, 2021

On Monday, the Biden administration announced plans to provide $1 billion in additional funding for FEMA in order to prepare communities for the increasingly destructive hurricane season. 

The additional funding will double the current financial size of the Federal Emergency Management Agency program which gives states and local governments money to reduce vulnerability before a disaster occurs. The majority of the funds will go to FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program which seeks to shift federal funding from reactive spending to proactive investment in community resilience. Additionally, a small portion of the funding will directly support disadvantaged communities. 

After years of record storms and wildfires as well as recent assignments to administer coronavirus vaccinations, many FEMA staff members are worn out. Furthermore, the increased funding is expected to cause an even larger administrative burden for FEMA. Regardless, scientists anticipate this hurricane season to be “above-normal” with as many as 10 hurricanes expected, including three to five hurricanes reaching Category 3 or higher. Climate change has caused hurricanes to become more powerful and destructive, making FEMA’s capabilities of increased focus in Washington.

In Iowa, FEMA provided more than $33 million in aid to help communities recover from the derecho which struck in August 2020. Weather patterns such as derechos’ are expected to increase over the next few years in the Midwest, resulting in decreased agricultural productivity and increased flooding and drought

Environmental Panel Approves New Water Quality Rules


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Josie Taylor | May 24, 2021

An Iowa environmental panel approved new controversial water quality rules last week. Critics are worried it will threaten Iowa’s waterways.

The Environmental Protection Commission, which is a group appointed by the Governor, approved rules on water quality certifications related to permits. They approved heavy equipment that is currently banned to be used in waterways. It also removes wetland loss restrictions. 

Some groups however, like The Iowa Environmental Council believe the new rules will take away important protections for Iowa’s waterways. This council is made up of 80 environmental groups and 500 individual members. This group is also concerned that water quality standards will be easier to violate. 

The Iowa Environmental Council stressed concerns over the Department of Natural Resources because they claim these new rules will limit what DNR can consider when looking at permits. DNR, however, gave a statement to the Des Moines Register making it clear that they still intend to guarantee safe water for Iowans. 

In their statement, the Department of Natural Resources gave support for the new rules passed by the panel. They say these rules will take action to prevent pollution, along with other positive actions.