Severe Weather in Iowa and Across the Midwest Wednesday Night


Trees down in Iowa in August 2020

Josie Taylor | December 16, 2021

There were Tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings throughout the afternoon and evening across the Plains Wednesday. Twisters in Iowa, fires in Kansas and damage across the region has been reported today. 

There were 118 severe thunderstorms and 71 tornado warnings across Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa Wednesday night, the National Weather Service said. 

In Iowa, the weather caused power outages, severe damage and at least one death. Iowa State Patrol troopers say a tractor-trailer was blown over in the wind around 8:30 p.m. killing at least one person. 

There were more than a dozen tornadoes reported in Iowa, with most seen in the western part of the state. Confirmation of tornadoes and damage assessments will be available in the coming days, said Allan Curtis of the National Weather Service.

Des Moines recorded a 74 mph wind gust at the airport at 8:28 p.m. Wednesday. This was the strongest gust not associated with a thunderstorm seen in Des Moines since 1970, the National Weather Service reported on Twitter.

Accurate damage assessment may take days to confirm, but we know that there are many trees down across Iowa, homes have been damaged and some Iowans are still without power today.

Downed derecho trees turn into urban lumber


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | October 29, 2021

Thousands of downed trees from the 2020 derecho were originally turned into mulch, but now, some can be found in furniture, art, and housing materials.

The decision was made to get rid of the massive amount of trees across Cedar Rapids, one of the hardest hit areas in Iowa, according to The Cedar Rapids Gazette. Still, clean up of downed trees lasted months. Now, some trees have become urban lumber. Urban lumber is wood cut from trees that were grown within city limits that are not turned into mulch.

Urban lumber is now available in Des Moines and Iowa City at Habitat for Humanity stores. It’s available to anyone according to Aron Flickinger, a forestry program specialist at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Keeping the trees in their initial form and not making it into mulch keeps carbon locked instead of the chemical goes back into the atmosphere. 50 percent of the weight of wood is carbon.

Urban lumber has a multitude of uses. including cabinetry, furniture, flooring, and interior finishes.

Iowa Climate Statement 2021 press conference covers in-depth climate issues


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | October 15, 2021

Following the release of the 2021 Iowa Climate Statement, authors and signatories spoke with reporters to answers questions about climate issues in the state on Wednesday.

More than 200 professors and researchers signed the tenth annual statement. Chairman of Environmental Science and Sustainability at Drake University said the groups is “trying to identify the things we need to do to adapt to the climate regime,” at the press conference.

The statement specifically pointed at the summer 2020 derecho, a long-lived wind and rain storm often referred to as an inland hurricane. On the Zoom call, Gene Takle, an Iowa State University agronomy professor, said since Iowans don’t know when, in what form, or where an extreme weather event could occur down the road, there is a strong likelihood of another widespread power outage.

In August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated the weather event caused more than $11 billion in damages across the Midwest region. In Iowa alone, power was knocked out for more than half a million households across the state. Some Iowans waited two weeks for power outages to end according to Iowa Public Radio. Another weather event like the derecho could cost Iowans even more if the strength of the state’s infrastructure does not improve.

Co-director of the Center for Global and Environmental Research Jerry Schnoor said “people do realize this is a serious issue and that we will need to act.” He said the pushes towards renewable energy and other climate goals in the state are not happening fast enough.


The 2021 statement and the recording of Wednesday’s press conference can be found here.

Iowa Lost Over 7 Million Trees in the Derecho, DNR Says


Derecho Damage in Ames, IA

Josie Taylor | September 15, 2021

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has reported that last summer’s derecho cost Iowa 7.2 million trees as wind gusts got up to 140 miles per hour in some counties. The cities that lost the most were Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Davenport. 

Iowa cities lost 4.5 million trees, and rural Iowa lost 2.7 million trees. 13 percent of all urban trees were lost to the derecho. Cedar Rapids, however, lost 70 percent of their urban trees as they lost 953,224 trees alone. Iowa City and Johnson County lost 234,567 trees. 

The lack of trees in Iowa will ultimately contribute to climate change since trees capture carbon, reduce air pollution, provide natural shade and provide windbreaks. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called the derecho “the costliest thunderstorm in U.S. history. The state sustained $11 billion in damages and Iowan families have filed for $3 billion, according to the Iowa Insurance Division. 

Climate Change Costs Billions of Dollars


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | August 30, 2021

Today, we are seeing natural disasters hit all over the United States. There are devastating floods in Tennessee, fires across the west destroying trees, property and wildlife, and hurricane damage is being seen across the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

In 2020 $11 billion of damages were seen across the midwest from the derecho.  850,000 acres of crops were destroyed. 

Already in 2021, $40 billion in insured damage from natural disasters has been reported world-wide. The 2021 damage so far is above the 10-year average of $33 billion. The only other year with more costly damage was 2011, when earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand sent the six-month total to $104 billion.

Swiss Re, a global insurance and reinsurance company, said the increased cost of natural disasters can be attributed to climate change. Climate change is causing a rise in temperatures, sea levels and weather extremes. 

Iowa lawmakers can help with these catastrophic prices. They can extend solar tax credit, which gives intensive to use efficient renewable energy. Iowa also has not completed a baseline study of buildings’ compliance with energy efficiency standards since 2011. These are ways Iowa can help with problems caused by climate change. With the increase in costs worldwide, these costs are bound to hit average American families if nothing is done about it. 

Derecho recovery continues with tree replanting, aid requests


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | August 12, 2021

One year after the derecho devastated many Iowa communities, the state is still recovering.

The storm ripped through nearly 800 miles of the Midwestern United States and crossed eight states within 14 hours. Winds reached higher than 60 miles per hour across the region. With Tuesday marking the anniversary of the natural disaster, Iowans are looking forward after a year of rebuilding.

One of the hardest hit areas of Iowa, Cedar Rapids, is looking to replant some of the trees that were uprooted in the storm. Several trees in the area were removed by contractors because they were damaged, including early 20 percent of the city-owned trees. This led to a smaller diversity of species in the municipality. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported on Tuesday that the city is still taking inventory of what trees were lost in the derecho. The city is hoping to finish the project by the end of 2021.

Cedar Rapids is currently looking to replant several species of trees, including the swamp white oak and Western catalpa trees. Post-derecho planting has officially begun in the city to continue recovering the landscape.

Alongside strides to return to pre-derecho Iowa, some elected officials from the state are looking to continue investing funds in recovery initiatives. The storm is the most costly inland weather disaster in the history of the United States, with an $11 million price tag. Iowa’s delegation in Washington are pushing for more funding to go to programs like Cedar Rapids’s tree planting.

Jerry Schnoor Explains in a Video Why We are in a Climate Crisis


Josie Taylor | August 9, 2021

Jerry Schnoor, co-director of Global and Regional Environmental Research poses the question: Are we in a climate a crisis? Jerry explains why he believes we are with examples of climate tragedies around the world and more specifically Iowa. He talks about the affects on the Iowa derecho that will have happened one year ago tomorrow.

Jerry is a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Iowa. He joined the University of Iowa college of engineering in 1977. Since then he has been a part of multiple research groups on campus. Jerry’s special fields of knowledge are water quality modeling, aquatic chemistry and climate change.

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


Via Flickr

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. 

Biden Doubles FEMA Funding to Support Proactive Programs


Via Flickr

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

New Bill Would Give Iowa State Parks an Additional $3 Million Each Year


Image of lake in Pilot Knob State Park, Ellington, IA.
Via Flickr

Elizabeth Miglin | March 4, 2021

A plan to provide $3 million towards state park improvements passed a legislative subcommittee on Monday, March 1st.

Rep. Brent Siegrist, R-Council Bluffs, introduced the bill to provide additional funding to state parks in light of deferred maintenance. The bill would create a Restore the Outdoors program to fund vertical integration projects that focus on major repairs and renovations. 

Similar to legislation from 1997, House File 647 would provide the DNR with $3 million annually from gambling taxes over a three-year period. Despite concerns over budget restrictions caused by casino closures in 2020, GOP leaders are expected to give the bill a hearing in the Natural Resources and Appropriations committee. 

“I will continue to press this issue because I think it is very important to our quality of life in Iowa,” Siegrist said

The interest to improve state parks comes after a tumultuous year. Not only did Iowa’s state parks celebrate a centennial anniversary, but there was also a record 16.6 million visitations last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the impacts of the derecho left many state parks in need of renovation.  

“I think that, especially after last year when so many people used our state parks, it is just a good thing to keep them as maintained as we can,” subcommittee member Rep. Tom Jeneary, R-Le Mars, said to the Iowa Capitol Dispatch.

All three representatives on the House Natural Resources subcommittee approved the legislation.