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.

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.

UI Professor Talks About Drought on Iowa Press


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Josie Taylor | June 21, 2021

On Friday, University of Iowa professor Larry Webber, along with Des Moines Water Works CEO, Ted Corrigan were interviewed on Iowa Press. They both answered questions about water quality in Iowa, and more specifically how the drought is affecting water.

Corrigan and Webber were both calm during the interview, and did not act scared about Iowa’s future. They were disappointed at times, but held out hope. 

The interview was started by asking Corrigan and Webber about the recent news that the Supreme Court would not move forward with a lawsuit that was brought forward by a couple of groups dealing with agriculture pollution on the Raccoon River. They both expressed disappointment. Professor Webber said “we’ve had a lot of talk and the talk has been going on now for a decade”, and now we need progress. 

Both interviewees were asked if they believed there would be a Flint, MI type of situation in the near future. Both men shut that thought down quickly. They said that Iowa is not experiencing anything like Flint, meaning Iowa does not have drinking water contaminated with lead, and they reassured that Iowans are taking this seriously. 

Corrigan shared that Des Moines was asked to cut down on their water use, and that the citizens of Des Moines did that. He said that they have seen a 5 million gallon reduction in water from day to day. He holds out hope that Des Moines will not get to the place of needing to ration water completely. 

Webber ended the interview by sharing that he believes federal leadership is needed in times like this. He wants more leadership in USDA in order to help farmers handle a drought effectively. 

Des Moines Water Works Urges Customers to Conserve Amid Drought


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Elizabeth Miglin | June 15, 2021

Des Moines Water Works has asked customers to voluntarily conserve water as drought and near-record water demand strains supply. 

On Monday, the utility asked metro residents to reduce their lawn watering by 25%. The utility has a capacity of 110 million gallons a day however, when demand reaches past 90 million the system risks water pressure problems. On June 9, Water Works pumped 88.6 million gallons, now the second highest peak since 2012 when 96 million gallons were pumped. 

In an interview with the Iowa Capital Dispatch, CEO Ted Corrigan noted if it doesn’t rain soon, the utility may need to ask for a 50% lawn watering reduction. This is only the second time during Corrigan’s 31 years at Water Works that the utility has asked customers to voluntarily reduce water usage. The last time a cutback was encouraged was in 2012. 

Water Works has had to lower its usage of the Des Moines River due to toxic algae issues which re-emerged a month early this year; making the river unusable. The current main source of tap water, the Raccoon River is running at 7.5% of its median flow.

Over the past decade, Iowa has spent over $40.6 million at six locations to treat and prevent algae toxin outbreaks. Nationwide, this issue has become a $1.1 billion issue according to a study by the Environmental Working Group

The request impacts Des Moines, West Des Moines, Johnston, Urbandale, Clive, Norwalk, Pleasant Hill and Ankeny city residents.