Hurricane Harvey worsened by Houston skyline


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The buildings of Houston made the floods it experienced last August more intense, a new study found (flickr). 

Julia Poska| November 16, 2018

Houston can partially blame the unprecedented flooding it experienced during Hurricane Harvey last year on its skyline. A new study co-authored by Gabriele Villarini, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering at the University of Iowa, found that Houston’s topography exacerbated Harvey’s rainfall.

Researchers obtained data on rainfall and water discharge in Houston during the storm from various national agencies, and compared it to a computer model that simulated the same storm with a twist. In the model, the city of Houston was replaced with undeveloped farm fields to calculate the built environment’s effect on the storm’s behavior.

The analysis concluded that urban development in the Houston area increased the likelihood of intense fooding 21 times during that particular storm. In other words, if Houston were really an expanse of farmland instead of a city, less rain would have fallen.

“The buildings stop the air from being able to move forward, away from the ocean,” co-author Gabriel Vecchi from Princeton told NPR. “They sort of stop the air in that general area, and the air has nowhere to go but around the buildings, or up.”

Vecchi said when tall buildings push air farther upwards, the amount of atmospheric water vapor that condenses into rain increases. Houston’s skyline not only stalled the storm, but squeezed more rain out of it.

 

 

 

Iowa Pulitzer winner says ‘Welcome to climate change, Iowa-style’


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Cullen details the consequences of climate-fueled floods and heatwaves for Iowa farms (flickr).

Julia Poska | October 26, 2018

“Welcome to climate change, Iowa-style” -Art Cullen

Over the course the current midterm election campaigns, Iowan farm fields have faced high heatwaves, record-breaking rainfall, flooding and unseasonable cold. Experts say such extreme events are fueled by climate change.

Pulitzer Prize winner Art Cullen, editor of Storm Lake, Iowa’s Storm Lake Times, published a new editorial on The Guardian last week to share his thoughts on the matter.

“Few politicians in the five states around here are talking about regulating agriculture in an era of warmer and wetter nights and long droughts,” he wrote. “Yet farmers are paying attention.”

Cullen based his argument in the findings of regional climate researchers. An Iowa State scientist predicted Iowa’s recent floods 20 years ago. Someone at the University of Minnesota predicts Iowa’s corn yield will halve by 2070. An agronomist, also from Iowa State, said soil erosion is making corn starchier and less valuable.

To combat the change, farmers have historically increased drainage tile. Cullen cited the environmental consequences of that adaption, mainly low oxygen due to excess nutrients in the Gulf of Mexico, and water quality issues within the state.

As the situation has gotten worse and awareness has risen, farmers have started making positive changes, too, Cullen said.  They’re looking at sustainability reports, cover cropping to reduce erosion, and rotating diverse crops and livestock.

Cullen calls for policy makers to “catch up” and provide more financial aid to help farmers implement sustainable practices and even retire land.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extreme rain causes record-setting delay for Iowa soybean harvest


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This map from Iowa Environmental Mesonet shows the extent of rainfall in Iowa this fall. These conditions have contributed to a delayed soybean harvest. 

Julia Poska | October 19, 2018

Last week, Iowa saw up to four inches of rain rain, below-average temperatures, and 10 confirmed tornadoes. The unfavorable weather has made this year’s the slowest Iowa soybean harvest on record.

As of Oct. 14, Iowa farmers had only harvested 14 percent of soybean acres in the state. , according to last week’s Iowa Crop Progress & Condition Report, put out by the National Agriculture Statistics Service. The report said that between the cold, rain and even snow, only 0.8 days during the week were suitable for fieldwork.

At this time last year, about 30 percent of Iowa soybeans were off the field. In 2016, that number was closer to 50 percent.  The 2018 Iowa Climate Statement, released last week, warns that extreme rainfall events will only get worse in Iowa as time goes on. Future years may see even later delays for harvests.

Despite the slow harvest, the bean plants themselves are a bit ahead of schedule. The report said 97 percent of the soybean crop was dropping leaves as of the 14th, five days ahead of average. Wallace’s Farmer reported that in some fields, moisture has prompted beans to start sprouting out of their pods.

Ideally, the beans only contain 13 percent moisture at harvest, but these wet conditions could cause the beans to absorb and store more water from the air, according to South Dakota’s Capital Journal. This could spell bad news for farmers, as many buyers only take dry soybeans. Farmers will have to wait longer to harvest or store their beans long-term.

Dryer conditions this week should have provided some opportunity for farmers to catch up. Meanwhile, states in the eastern Corn Belt are reporting faster-than-average harvest, according to Wallace’s Farmer.

 

 

Climate change: heat, rain, and less beer?


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These glasses could look 17 percent less full during future extreme climate events (flickr). 

Julia Poska | October 18, 2018

Last week, the 2018 Iowa Climate Statement warned of worsening extreme heat and rain events statewide as climate change progresses. A new study published this week has predicted what, for some, might be an even scarier outlook: global beer shortages.

International researchers studied how recent extreme climate events, like drought and heatwaves, have impacted barley yields and beer prices around the world. They used their findings to model potential future impacts in more extreme events.

They predict that during severe events global barley production will fall by 3 to 17 percent, leading to a 16 percent global decline in beer consumption. It would be as if the United States stopped drinking beer altogether.

Different regions of the world would feel the drop unequally; countries that already drink less beer would face greater scarcity. Argentina would consume about 32 percent less beer, the study said.

The United States would see a reduction of 1.08 to 3.48 billion liters,  about 4 to 14 percent of the quantity consumed nationally in 2017, as reported by the National Beer Wholesalers Association.

In such a shortage,  researchers said beer prices would about double in most places.

Lead UK author Dabo Guan from the University of East Anglia said more studies on climate change economics focus on availability of staple crops like corn and wheat, in a press release about the study.

“If adaptation efforts prioritise necessities, climate change may undermine the availability, stability and access to ‘luxury’ goods to a greater extent than staple foods,” he said. “People’s diet security is equally important to food security in many aspects of society.”

 

 

 

 

Reflecting on the 2018 Climate Statement


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This visual from Iowa Environmental Mesonet shows extreme rainfall in Des Moines this past summer.

Julia Poska | October 12, 2018

The UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research had a big day yesterday; we released the 2018 Iowa Climate Statement at the Cedar Rapids Public Library for the press and public. Today we can reflect on the magnitude of the statement’s message.

Titled “Designing Buildings and Communities for Iowa’s Future Climate,” the statement warns of the urgent need to adapt buildings and public infrastructure to withstand the extreme weather of tomorrow. Scientists predict that average annual heat waves will increase by 7ºF and the most extreme rainfall events will double in intensity by midcentury.

“These are really scary numbers which will have negative consequences for the elderly, the economy, for corn and soybeans, as well as beef, hogs and poultry even under sheltered confinement,” said Jerry Schnoor, co-director of CGRER. “We must start now to adapt our built environment, including buildings and flood mitigation systems, to this changing climate.”

Schnoor presented the statement yesterday with Associate Professor of Architecture Ulrike Passe, director of Iowa State University’s Center for Building Energy Research.

“Water will also enter buildings from the foundation or basement walls,” Passe said. “In particular, heavier rain events and higher water tables affect foundations, and standards going forward must reflect that.”

She provided examples of several adaptations that can be made to buildings to prepare them for increased heat and precipitation, including steeper roof slopes, increased insulation and better ventilation. She said Iowan communities should consider managing increased rainwater runoff with green, vegetation-based infrastructure like rain gardens and urban forestry as well.

These adjustments need to be made as soon as possible; Iowa’s weather is already feeling the effects of climate change.

“Warming over the Gulf of Mexico is helping feed large rain events in Iowa and the Midwest,” Schnoor said. “That’s why we’re prone to intense downpours and major flooding like Des Moines saw on June 30 and like eastern Iowa has been experiencing for the past six weeks. People’s homes and businesses are being flooded that have never been flooded before.”

Burning less fossil fuel and reducing atmospheric carbon emissions can help mitigate climate change’s impacts as well, but at this stage, adaptation is absolutely crucial. We at CGRER hope those with decision-making power take the statement to heart, and listen to the record 201 science faculty and researchers from 37 Iowa colleges and universities who endorsed it.

 

The Iowa Climate Statement 2018


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Ulrike Passe (left) and Jerry Schnoor answer questions about the Iowa Climate Statement.

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu and Kasey Dresser | October 11, 2018

The Iowa Climate Statement 2018: Designing Buildings and Communities for Iowa’s Future Climate was released earlier today at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. The statement was announced by Jerry Schnoor, the co-director of the University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, and Ulrike Passe, Associate Professor of Architecture at Iowa State University.

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Ulrike Passe (left) and Jerry Schnoor read the climate statement and answered questions

The eighth annual statement, “Iowa Climate Statement 2018: Designing Buildings and Communities for Iowa’s Future Climate,” released Thursday, October 11 was signed by a record 201 science faculty and researchers from 37 Iowa colleges and universities. The statement describes the urgent need to fortify our building and public infrastructure from heat and precipitation and looks to the future weather of Iowa, suggesting ways to improve Iowa’s buildings to suit those changing weather patterns.

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The climate statement holds a record number of signers
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Extreme precipitation is just one factor influencing this year’s climate statement topic

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Watch the press conference on our Facebook page

Read the climate statement

Iowa expects to get drenched


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Iowa expects dark and stormy skies for the next several days (flickr).

Julia Poska | October 5th, 2018

After its third-wettest September on record, Iowa can expect a rainy October, too. The DesMoines Register reported that 4 to 5 inches of rain are forecasted to fall over most of the state in next few days. For some localities, it’s already started.

Southwest Iowa may be hit the hardest. Forecasts there predict 6 or more inches of rain.

The rain is expected to fall almost endlessly at least into early next week. National Weather Service meteoroligst Brooke Hagenhoff told the Register that the widespread nature of the forecast will likely increase the rainfall’s impacts on rivers and low-lying areas.

Some parts of the state are already saturated. Despite a fairly dry start to the month, flood alerts have been active for parts of the Des Moines, Cedar and Iowa Rivers throughout this week thanks to late-September rains in northern Iowa. The Iowa Flood Information System gauged a major flood stage for the Wapsipinicon River at DeWitt as of Wednesday afternoon.