Over 40% of Americans Experienced Climate Related Disasters in 2021


Via Flickr

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.

Cedar Rapids is Considering a Flood Control System


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Josie Taylor | October 25, 2021

Cedar Rapids leaders recently presented plans to put millions of federal dollars toward the city’s ongoing flood control plans. The extra resources will be targeted at the west side.

The city has plans for a large flood control system along the Cedar River. This is a response to the 2008 flood that caused $6 billion in damage on downtown businesses and neighborhoods on the westside of Cedar Rapids. 

A smaller but still serious flood in 2016 — which reached 22 feet, compared to 31 in 2008 — was a reminder of the need for a flood control system.

This round of federal funding is specifically intended to benefit vulnerable communities who were most severely impacted by the pandemic and to promote community resilience. Cedar Rapids’ use of more than $10 million for west side flood protection is this kind of mission. 

Residents in flood-impacted areas are more likely to be impoverished, elderly, disabled, renters and in women-headed households. They are the kinds of people who historically in the United States have not been well served by city planning, housing and infrastructure policy. Creating a flood plan that targets the west side would be a way for city officials to correct national injustices in their city. 

UI Flood Center Created an Interactive Flood Map


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Josie Taylor | September 6, 2021

Northeastern Iowa experienced flooding last weekend. On Sunday, August 29, the Cedar River quickly rose following heavy rainfall. Minor flooding was then seen in Cedar Falls at Tourist Park. 

Park Manager Lori Eberhard with the Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources said, “Trails are still underwater and there’s going to be a number of them that are going to be underwater for a few days”, in regards to Tourist Park. 

Luckily for Iowa, the University of Iowa Flood Center has an interactive map to help Iowans understand flood forecasts in their area. This tool updates every few minutes making it easy to predict flooding. 

Gabriele Villarini, an associate professor with the The University of Iowa’s hydraulics laboratory, uses the tool to study the rise of floods.
Villarini said, “There is no login, very easy to access, and you can think of it as your one-stop-shop for all of your hydrometeorological needs”. Any Iowan, now matter their understanding of flooding, or their income can utilize this user-friendly tool.

Cedar Lake levee grant approved to mitigate flooding


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | August 13, 2021

A state panel approved a more than $500,000 grant for a Cedar Lake levee project that will protect downtown Cedar Rapids from floods on Thursday.

A $20 million project by ConnectCR is looking to revitalize the Cedar Lake area in the next few years. The plan looks to “develop” the area and focus on enhancing current park amenities while creating new ones. The project also is committed to protecting the North Shore wetlands and educate visitors on the diverse plants and wildlife by the lake. The more than half-a-million-dollar grant to build a levee will help create opportunities for reducing pollutants from running into the lake.

Alongside the grant and private investment into the area, the Iowa Natural Resource Commission approved a lake-restoration grant. Flood-control measures for the area are expected to cost upwards of $16 million. The funding will help maintain the lake’s wildlife and improve the waterway’s pollution levels. The measures are also preventative and will work to decrease the impact of flooding on Cedar Rapids and the city’s residents.

The commission also purchase 220 acres of forest and grassland on Thursday. The land is currently owned by the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. The land is worth $1.6 million and will be used to expand the Saylorville Wildlife Management Area, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch.

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.

The Majority of Iowa is Experiencing Abnormal Dryness


Josie Taylor | May 3, 2021

According to the Iowa drought monitor, 74.5 percent of Iowa is abnormally dry, with extreme drought conditions in northwest Iowa. Last week only 40.8 percent was in drought. Iowa is expected to be in a drought until the early part of crop season, but possibly longer. 

State climatologist Justin Glisan clarified in an interview that the majority of Iowa is not in what is classified as a drought, but it is something to keep an eye out for this summer. 

This drought is vastly different than last year, which had flooding and storms. Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said that he has visited farms that are still recovering from heavy flooding from two years ago, and are now being affected by dryness. Much of Iowa is still recovering from last summer’s derecho as well. 

Glisan also warned that if moisture levels don’t improve, “we could see some physiological issues with corn and soybeans”. Iowa farmers continue to suffer during the crop season, and current predictions show northwest Iowa may not get the rain they need soon. 

After a dry winter, Iowa DNR says flood risk remains high


Image result for iowa flooding 2019
Photo from Jo Naylor, flickr

Tyler Chalfant | March 12th, 2020

This February has been warmer and drier than usual in Iowa. As a result, streamflow conditions have generally decreased, but the Iowa Department of Natural Resources says that the risk for flooding on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers remains high for this spring. 

Though severe drought has impacted other areas of the country, there have not been drought conditions in Iowa. In total, December, January, and February saw about 3 inches of snow, which is 0.33 inches less than normal, improving stream levels across the state. 

Last year saw historic flooding in both river basins, with over 200 miles of compromised levees, and 81 of Iowa’s 99 counties put on flood warning last spring. This resulted from heavy rainfall accompanied by an unusually high amount of snowmelt from Minnesota. The Iowa Policy Project released a report warning that such flooding events are likely to become more frequent and severe as climate change makes weather patterns more difficult to predict. 

2019 was the third wettest year for the Missouri River Basin on record, meaning the basin is going into 2020 with wetter-than-normal soil. Runoff this year is expected to be more than 140% as much as normal, which would place this year in the top ten for the basin.

Federal flooding buyouts more available in wealthier areas


Flooded Home
Photo by Chris Sirrine, flickr

Tyler Chalfant | October 15th, 2019

A federal program that buys and demolishes homes in flood-prone areas has been disproportionately implemented in counties with higher incomes and higher populations, a recent study found. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has bought more than 43,000 homes since 1989 in an effort to make communities less vulnerable to flooding. Though this study raises concerns that the program isn’t helping the areas most at risk. 

The number of Americans with flood insurance has been declining in recent years, while flood-prone areas in coastal states have the highest rates of construction, as the frequency of flooding events increases. The buyout program allows homeowners to relocate further inland, rather than continuously rebuilding after a storm, in a process known as managed retreat. 

Homeowners can’t apply for the buyouts themselves, and FEMA doesn’t determine who can participate. That decision is left to local officials. One explanation for the wealth disparity offered by the study’s authors was that wealthier and more populous jurisdictions may be more likely to have the staff and expertise required to successfully apply for federal funds. Within the counties that receive more funding, poorer neighborhoods are more likely to be demolished.

Another paper, published last month by the Natural Resources Defense Council, also highlighted inefficiencies in the FEMA buyout program. The NRDC found that wait times averaging five years for FEMA to complete a project contribute to inequity in the program, as many give up waiting and rebuild instead. 

Iowa flooding will become more frequent and severe


Flood 2008
Photo of 2008 flood by Jon Fravel, Flickr

Tyler Chalfant | September 10th, 2019

Iowans across the state experienced severe flooding this year, and according to a report released Thursday by the Iowa Policy Project, flooding events like those of 2019 will likely become more frequent and severe as the climate changes. While temperatures and precipitation have been shown to be rising, flooding patterns are harder to predict, but this year’s “100-year flood” seems to be the fourth flooding event of its kind in only 30 years, following severe floods in 1993, 2008, and 2011.

Both the Mississippi and Missouri River Basins flooded this year, with the Mississippi breaching a levee in Davenport, and the Missouri breaching every levee south of Council Bluffs on the western side of the state. In addition to the damage caused to flooded roads, homes, and businesses, these floods have harmed agriculture. Farmers were forced by flooded fields to plant late or not at all this year. The floods spoiled stored crops, caused the deaths of livestock, and damaged farm infrastructure. Flooding and extreme heat also pose a threat to human health through contaminated water supplies, the spread of disease-carrying insects, and harm to mental health. 

The period from May 2018 to April 2019 set new records for precipitation in the Midwest, with Iowa exceeding the regional average with over 50 inches. Since the 1970s, Iowa’s average annual rainfall has been rising by 1.25 inches per decade – the highest rate of any state in the country – and snowfall this February reached three and a half times the recent average. Springtime rainfall in the upper Mississippi is projected to increase 20 to 40 percent. The report also covered temperature increases, which are projected to be the highest in the Midwest during the warm season.