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


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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.

Officials save Lake Powell as Drought threatens production of hydroelectric power


West USA - Lake Powell
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Elyse Gabor | May 10, 2022

The artificial reservoir, Lake Powell, seeks help from U.S. officials to boost water levels. A prolonged drought has dried up water levels, threatening hydroelectric power production for the Western states. 

The Bureau of Reclamation is releasing 500,000 acre-feet of water. The water is coming from Flaming Gorge Reservoir. An acre-foot equals 3260,000 gallons of water and is enough to supply two houses with water for a year. 

This is the first time unprecedented measures have been taken to boost water levels. Tanya Trujillo, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for water and science, said, “We have never taken this step before in the Colorado River Basin, but the conditions we see today and the potential risk we see on the horizon demand that we take prompt action.” 

As the second-largest reservoir in the U.S., Lake Powell was damned in the 1960s. If the lake were to dry up 23 more feet, the megawatt plant wouldn’t be able to supply millions of people in the western U.S. states with electricity.

In the past two decades, this has been the driest period ever recorded. The drought is believed to be caused by climate change. 

U.S. megadrought worsens with no signs of letting up


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | February 25, 2022

The megadrought in the southwestern U.S. is the worst the country has seen in at least 1,200 years.

A new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change found the past two decades in the American Southwest have been the driest in well over a millennium. The researchers believe global warming has worsened the drought’s severity. One of the study’s authors and climate scientist at Columbia University Jason Smerdon said human-made climate change makes the drought more extreme because it causes a “thirstier” atmosphere that is able to pull more moisture from trees, vegetation, and soil. Smerdon called the development “a slow-motion train wreck.”

Temperatures in the Southwest in the 21st century have been almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the average temperature from 1950 to 1999. The researchers used tree rings to estimate soil moisture conditions of past climates to compare to today’s.

Researchers found several significant megadroughts have occurred in the southwestern U.S. in the past 1,200 years. Some of the droughts have lasted up to 30 years. The team believes the area has not experience such dry conditions since the late 1500s, and not with such consistency since 800 A.D.

Over 40% of Americans Experienced Climate Related Disasters in 2021


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Josie Taylor | January 6, 2022

2021 was a year of disasters for many Americans. Wildfires, extreme heat, drought, flooding, hurricanes and more hit so many. There is little doubt that the future will see even more disasters, and the disasters will be catastrophic. 

More than 40% of Americans live in a county that was hit by climate-related extreme weather last year, according to the Washington Post. More than 80 percent experienced a heat wave. This is not surprising to scientists because the US has generated more greenhouse gases than any other nation in history. 

At least 656 people died due to these disasters, media reports and government records show. The cost of the destruction hit $104 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This number is probably higher because officials have not calculated final tolls of wildfires, drought and heat waves in the West.

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency identified fewer climate-related disasters in individual counties last year, it declared eight of these emergencies statewide, the most since 1998, affecting 135 million people overall.

For the track the US is on now, it is unlikely that 2022 will be much different. In order to see changes we will have to massively cut down on greenhouse gas and carbon emissions.

The US is Experiencing Extreme Flooding and Extreme Drought


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Josie Taylor | January 4, 2022

As the climate continues to change, the United States of America becomes a place with both devastating amounts of precipitation and deadly droughts. The east, recently Kentucky, is drenched in water. The west, however, is dry and sometimes even on fire. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, found that the Eastern half of the country has gotten more rain, on average, over the last 30 years than it did during the 20th century, and at the same time, precipitation has decreased in the West. 

Stronger downpours are a clear symptom of climate change. As the climate warms, increased evaporation pumps more moisture into the air, and warmer air can hold more moisture. That means when it rains now, it tends to rain more.

The US is not the only country experiencing such extremes. Intense precipitation patterns are being observed worldwide. Most of Asia has gotten wetter, and average precipitation has increased in Northern and Central Europe. The Mediterranean has gotten drier, and is experiencing water scarcity. Much of Africa and Eastern Australia has also gotten drier 

Climate scientists are not completely sure if the changes in precipitation are a permanent feature of our warming planet, or if they reflect long-term weather variability. What we are seeing is largely consistent with predictions from climate models, which expect to see more precipitation as the world warms, with big regional differences. Wet places are expected to get wetter and dry places are expected to get drier.

Most of Iowa’s Drought has Been Lifted in the Past Month


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Josie Taylor | November 8, 2021

For the first time in over a year, many parts of Iowa are no longer in a drought. This is thanks to widespread rainfall last month that made it one of the wettest Octobers on record.

An average of about 5 inches of rain fell across the state, according to a water summary update from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The latest analysis by the U.S. Drought Monitor this week shows less than half of the state is abnormally dry or in moderate drought. Just 4 months ago, it was more than half. 

This week was the first since July 2020 that no part of the state was suffering from severe drought. Many areas of the state had more than double their normal amounts of rainfall. This is a massive improvement. 

The persistent rains did slow harvesting, however farmers are still ahead of the five-year average for completion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. About 88 percent of the soybean crop was harvested as of Sunday, and 70 percent of corn had been harvested.

Climate Change is Negatively Affecting the Colorado River


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Josie Taylor | October 18, 2021

States in the Colorado River basin, along with tribal leaders told a congressional panel Friday that states in the Colorado River Basin are adjusting to the reality that their rights outstrip the available water by nearly one-third. Climate change will likely make this situation worse as time goes on.

Representatives from the seven Western states — Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, California, Utah and Wyoming — that depend on the river for drinking water and irrigation said at a U.S. House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing that they are preparing for a future where the river and their needs and legal entitelments do not match. 

State officials and lawmakers emphasized how serious the situation was, but did offer many solutions beyond general appeals to conservation and collaboration.

States and tribes in the basin are legally entitled to 15 million acre-feet of water per year, with another 1.5 million going to Mexico, but only about 12.4 million has flowed in an average year over the last two decades.

The deficit is the result of a years-long drought that was tied to climate change, U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, a California Democrat who chairs the House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife, and others said.

Des Moines sees rain, lifts voluntary water cutbacks


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 16, 2021

After several days of rain, Des Moines Water Works suspended its ask for voluntary cutbacks on water usage in central Iowa on Thursday.

Des Moines Water Works began asking people to cut their water usage on June 14. The voluntary cutbacks asked Iowans to limit lawn-watering by 25 percent. The ask came after high temperatures and a lack of rain across the state. With removal of these voluntary cutbacks, the utility continues to encourage customers to water on specific days of the week based on their address. It also asks residents to not water their lawn between 10 am and 5 pm.

As of July 1, 85 percent of Iowa was in a drought at multiple levels. Recent rains have lessened drought conditions, but the U.S. Drought Monitor showed the drought had only dropped by 12 percent. 32 percent of the state is still experiencing a severe drought, specifically in the northern counties of Iowa.

Alongside water conservation efforts, Des Moines Water Works is still concerned about water quality in central Iowa. Algae blooms from runoff in the area has led to unclean water around Saylorville Lake, which runs into the Des Moines River.

With Iowa seeing more wet weather, the Western United States could see its severe drought lasting until October. The heat on the coast could lead to an extended wildfire season as well.

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.

Water Conservation is Being Requested Despite Rain


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Josie Taylor | July 5, 2021

Recently the Des Moines area has received rain, causing a lower demand for water. Despite this good news, next week there will likely be more heat and less rain, which could cause more strain on Des Moines Water Works. Des Moines Water Works had a high demand this summer because of the dryness Iowa is experiencing.

Des Moines Water Works pumped 89 million gallons on June 9. Two days later it was closer to 90 million gallons but luckily rain came. The rain brought demand down to 86 million, which is still high. The record is 96 million gallons, which occurred in 2012. 

On June 14 Des Moines citizens were asked to conserve their water when possible. This brought demand down by about 5 million gallons a day. 

Demand for water got down to 50 million gallons a day in late June after multiple rain showers. This did not last long, and by Thursday, July 1 it was up to 73 million gallons a day.

Ted Corrigan, Des Moines Water Works CEO, told Iowa Capital Dispatch that Water Works will continue to ask their customers to try to avoid watering their lawn, and to follow a watering schedule. Their goal is to cut down lawn watering by 25 percent.

Utility workers also installed flashboards on the Raccoon River in hopes to raise the water level because the river has been running low recently. The Raccoon River is a large source of water in the Des Moines area.