DNR 2019 precipitation summary recalls Iowa’s rainy year


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From the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. 

Julia Poska | January 10, 2020

2019 was Iowa’s 12th wettest year on record, with an average of 41.49 inches of rainfall across the state, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. Rainfall in May, September and October was especially high, while the summer months experienced below average rainfall.

The two-year 2018/2019 period was the wettest on record, with 19 more inches of precipitation than average. Stream flows were above normal all 2019 following heavy snow in the winter months. The rainy spring and fall seasons are indicative of projected climate change models for the region.

2019 temperatures in Iowa were cooler than average, however, by 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit. During the January “Polar Vortex,”one station in Emmet County recorded a -59 degree windchill. Summer was slightly cooler than average, though July and September were warm, andChristmas week broke record temperature highs.

 

60 degree Christmas part of a larger pattern of atmospheric warming


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Temperatures across Iowa at 2:51pm Dec. 25 (via Iowa Environmental Mesonet). 

Julia Poska| December 27, 2019

High temperatures on Wednesday, December 25 2019 broke records across the state of Iowa and much of the Midwest.

Des Moines reached 60 degrees, breaking the 1936 record of 58 degrees. Cedar Rapids reached 58 degrees, breaking the previous record of 54, according to Weather Underground.

The Christmas day highs were preceded and followed by unseasonably warm weather as well.

Though a 60 degree December day is not unheard of (the Des Moines Register reports that at least one December day in Iowa has reach 60 degrees 29% of years since 1878), average winter temperatures in the Midwest are undoubtedly rising.

A Union of Concerned Scientists report shares that average annual winter temperatures in the Midwest have risen about 4 degrees since 1980. Winter temperatures are forecast to continue rising, while snow and days below freezing will decrease.

New report highlights vulnerability of Iowa’s impoverished to flood impacts


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Cedar Rapids flooding (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | December 18, 2019

A new report from the Iowa Policy Project considers the roles equity should play when crafting policy for disaster response and mitigation.

“Frontline communities”–which feel the “first and often hardest” direct impact from a disaster like a flood or earthquake–have lower capacity to recover or mitigate, according to the report. This is in part because properties in these high-risk communities are cheaper, so residents are more likely to live below the poverty-line and belong to other disadvantaged socioeconomic groups.

“These communities are themselves set up for a disaster down the road and continuing downward spiral and being trapped where they are until the community can’t take it anymore and has scattered, or they’re just continually suffering over and over as these disasters strike,” the report’s author Joseph Wilensky told Iowa Public Radio.

Wilensky, a graduate student in the University of Iowa School of Urban and Regional Planning, reported that these “frontline” communities are less likely to receive full compensation for damages in as timely a manner as wealthier communities. He pointed to several examples from Iowa’s 2008 flood.

He also reported that allocation of Iowa’s watershed mitigation funds (both past and proposed projects) disproportionately benefits wealthier populations, as the cost-benefit method used favors protecting more expensive property, reducing economic damage.

Wilensky made several policy recommendations in the report as well. These include “rebalancing” the cost-benefit method to consider larger impact, considering whether mitigation efforts located outside of the frontline communities–which may qualify for less federal funding–could be helpful and hiring a state watershed coordinator to guide mitigation project applications.

Rising flood risk in Iowa and the Midwest due to climate change makes this report and its considerations especially pertinent.

 

As flood risk increases, FEMA pushes updates on southwest Iowa levees


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Levees hold back floodwaters from developed areas (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | December 6, 2019

FEMA will “de-accredit” 94.5 miles of levees in southwest Iowa and northwest Missouri unless owners make updates that ensure protection within new 100-year flood boundaries, the Des Moines Register reported Wednesday.

The levees protect parts of Pottawattamie, Mills and Fremont counties, which experienced historic flooding this spring.

Affected communities have historically been located in FEMA’s 500-year floodplain, giving them a 0.2% chance of flooding in a given year (NOT flooding once in 500 years, as is a common misconception). Flood recurrence is calculated from historic averages, and increasing flood frequency due to climate change now puts those areas within the 100-year flood plain, making flood risk 5 times higher.

The floodplain updates take effect in the spring but levee owners have a few years to make updates before official losing accreditation. The Register reports, “It’s estimated that work to meet FEMA’s standards could cost upwards of $1 million per mile of levee,” a steep price for an area still recovering from the last round of floods.

The Register reported that nearly 1,500 home and business owners would need to purchase flood insurance in the spring the levees don’t receive updates. In such a high-risk area, insurance would become mandatory, and rates in some areas could increase 2600%, according to the Register. 

 

North Carolina hurricane victims take a lesson from Iowa Flood Center


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Hurricane Florence as seen from space (via flickr). 

Julia Poska| November 15, 2019

A North Carolina mayor hopes to make his city more resilient against flooding following hurricanes using a method he learned from Iowa experts.

At the end of August, the Iowa Flood Center hosted a “flood resilience learning exchange” for 20 scientists, conservationists, farmers and officials from North Carolina communities impacted by devastating flooding from recent hurricanes. The two-day event featured talks from Iowan experts, a tour of Cedar Rapids’ flood infrastructure and a visit to a farm implementing such strategies.

News source kinston.com reported this week that Mayor Dontario Hardy of Kinston, North Carolina had been advocating for increased funding for flood resiliency projects since attending the event almost two months ago.

In just the past few years, Kinston–located along the Neuse River– faced widespread flooding after Hurricanes Matthew (2016) and Florence (2018). Though the Iowa Watershed Approach was not developed with hurricanes in mind, the basic concept–implementing conservation practices on land that will reduce the speed at which precipitation enters and floods our waterways– can apply to all types of flooding.

 

 

Does October snow contradict climate change theory? Absolutely not.


Julia Poska | October 30, 2019

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Map from Iowa Environmental Mesonet (accessed through Des Moines Register).

Iowans across much of the state awoke Tuesday morning to find a blanket of fresh snow atop vibrant orange and yellow autumn leaves, many still attached to the trees. Parts of east and east central Iowa saw as much as three to four inches, according to the Des Moines Register. 

The National Weather Service  puts the average date of first one-inch snowfall in eastern Iowa in early December.  The unseasonable flurry might have some Iowans questioning how serious Midwestern climate change could really be.

But climate (average temperature and precipitation over several decades) is not the same as weather (daily atmospheric conditions). Years of abnormally high snowfall or abnormally cold weather could have an impact on the averages that create our “climate,” but snow, frost and even “polar vortex” events on their own are products of normal weather variation throughout the year.

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Records show that overall, average annual temperatures in Iowa and most of the world are increasing, despite weather variation. This pushes local 30-year climate averages (shown below for Iowa City) up by small increments over time.

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From U.S. Climate Data

 

Iowans can still expect snow and cold in coming decades, though the overall frequency and intensity of such events may decline over time. Somewhat milder winters will be followed by much hotter, dryer summers, with an increased number of intense rainstorms added to the mix.

Midwest agriculture sector hit by climate change


By Julia Shanahan | October 18th, 2019

The FED central bank released a report this week reviewing the economic strength of various sectors and regions and concluded the agriculture industry is still not doing well economically — a lot of which can be attributed to climate change.

The report said that adverse weather effects has impacted farming conditions, market prices, and has disrupted trade. The Midwest has been hit particularly hard, and the FED reported that midwest sources have concerns about the outcome of this year’s harvest. Iowa experienced heavy flooding in the spring, which damaged grain and farmland. Because Iowa also experienced a period of dry weather over the summer months, some farmers were able to bounce back.

This summer, economic experts at the USDA issued a report that said increasing crop losses will drive up the prices of crop insurance, with climate change being a leading factor in crop loss. There are several government cost-share programs that work to mitigate risk in agriculture, and the average annual cost of these programs amounts to $12 billion using data from the last decade. As severe weather becomes more frequent, the amount of federal dollars is expected to increase.

The report says that all anticipated climate scenarios are expected to lower yields of corn, soybeans, and wheat — but yield volatility is not always impacted by severe weather. In a scenario that greenhouse gas emissions increase at a high rate, the cost of today’s Federal Crop Insurance Program is expected to increase 22 percent.