Lessons for Iowans in the wake of Harvey


Screen Shot 2017-09-06 at 6.45.00 PM
A map from the National Hurricane Center illustrates predicted landfall for Hurricane Irma, a category 5 storm, over the weekend. (National Hurricane Center)
Jenna Ladd| September 7, 2017

As some of the floodwater finally recedes from the Houston area following Hurricane Harvey,  Hurricane Irma, a category five storm, threatens to devastate the Florida Keys this weekend.

Climate change increased the amount of rainfall that fell on Houston during the recent storm, according to a statement from Clare Nullis Kapp, media officer for the World Meteorological Organization. Karen Tigges, a Des Moines resident and operations analyst at Wells Fargo, said in a recent Des Moines Register Letter to the Editor that Harvey has something to teach the people of Iowa. The letter reads:

“Houston: A tragic example of a city caught at the mercy of worsening storms and increased rainfall. Flooding is nothing new to Houston, but it appears that this time they are really paying the price for unwise growth.

Unfortunately, flooding is not unfamiliar to the city of Des Moines either. We are growing in the metro as well. We must take the warnings of storm events seriously. It’s said that the lack of zoning ordinances in Houston led to the loss of wetlands and grasslands that could have absorbed at least some of the onslaught of water. How does that compare with planning for growth here in the metro area? Is the growth of our urban areas leading to higher risks of flooding due to more impermeable surfaces in the form of more paved roads and rooftops?

As the city prepares for a future that will likely include more intense rainfall events, thanks to a warmer, more humid climate, we citizens need to take an active role in seeing that effective planning and policies are put in place to make Des Moines ready to face this unpleasant reality.

We can do that by weighing in on the city’s new planning and zoning code. We also need to do that by electing and supporting leaders that will be proactive in setting the course of the metro area on a path of resilience and preparedness for what storms of the future may bring.”

— Karen Tigges, Des Moines

Extreme weather takes the lives of 14 people


5932109608_6d1ebc366d_b
Tornados ripped through eastern Texas on Saturday night. (Red Cross/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | May 2, 2017

Flooding and tornados swept across the Midwest and southern U.S. this weekend, leaving at least 14 people dead.

The National Weather Service reported that four tornados moved through eastern Texas beginning Saturday evening. The twisters left an area of destruction 35 miles long and 15 miles wide in Van Zandt County, according to Canton, Texas Mayor Lou Ann Everett. Primarily small towns were affected in the mostly rural area east of Dallas; four individuals lost their lives.

Strong winds and flooding in Arkansas took the lives of five residents near Madison county. Four additional deaths were reported in Missouri and Mississippi, also due to flash flooding and strong winds.

Tragically, severe weather events like these are becoming more common as climate change rears its ugly head. According to archived data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s webpage prior to President Trump’s inauguration, “In recent years, a larger percentage of precipitation has come in the form of intense single-day events.” Similarly, the amount of precipitation falling on the heaviest rain days has increased in the last few decades. Many regions of the U.S. are seeing significantly more severe river flooding, while other areas are ravaged by drought. The Midwest, Great Plains, and Northeast have seen a significant increase in flooding, but the Southwest has experienced a decrease.

Scientists are still evaluating the relationship between climate change and twisters. The EPA notes that climate change does lead to stronger and more frequent thunderstorms, which can cause tornados, but there is a lack of empirical data on the matter.

Researchers can confidently conclude that climate change has caused more intense and frequent heat waves, fewer frequent and less intense cold waves, and regional changes in floods, droughts, and wildfires.

On the Radio: UI study finds floods increasing in severity


A flooded field during the flood of 2008 ( Joe Germuska / Flickr)
A flooded field during the flood of 2008 (Joe Germuska / Flickr)
April 6, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a recent University of Iowa study which found that flooding events in the Midwest have increased in severity in the past half century compared to previous years. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

A recent University of Iowa study has found that flooding events in the Midwest have increased in severity in the past half century compared to previous years.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus

The report was recently published in the journal Nature Climate Change by CGRER member Gabriele Villarini. It examined 774 stream sensors in fourteen states from North Dakota to West Virginia. The researchers found that 34 percent of the sensors detected an increase in flooding events between 1962 and 2013. Nine percent of the sensors showed a decrease in floods during that same period. The region that experienced the highest frequency of floods included Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, and North Dakota.

Serious floods have hit the Midwest repeatedly since 2008. FEMA data show that the nationwide flooding events caused more than $260 billion in damages between 1980 and 2013.

For more information about this study, visit IowaEnvironmentalResearch.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

CGRER documentary shows need for statewide flood sensor network


A still from a documentary on the development of a flood sensor network in Iowa produced by the UI Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research.
A still from a documentary on the development of a flood sensor network in Iowa produced by the UI Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research.
KC McGinnis | March 4, 2015

A new documentary produced by the University of Iowa Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research shows how one technology developed by Iowa scientists could help Iowans prepare for floods better than ever before.

The video (below) includes interviews with Iowa landowners, scientists and watershed authorities who are taking advantage of experimental flood sensors being installed in locations around northeast Iowa. The new technology, which has been under development since the 1990s, is groundbreaking in both its arrangement and scope, and has influenced similar networks across the country.

The sensors, which can be installed on farms or other land, record rainfall on the ground, rather than from radar, resulting in more accurate readings. Each sensor is actually a set of two sensors, which can help explain discrepancies in data better than single sensors. Data from these sensors is sent to the Iowa Flood Information System, an interactive website that’s free to the public, and is an important resource for landowners and municipalities during heavy rainstorms and other flood events.

Since rainfall can vary over small distances, the Iowa Flood Center is currently seeking funding to install new flood sensors in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. To see the history of the technology and to learn more, watch the video below.

On the Radio: Miscanthus shows promise as an Iowa biomass crop


Miscanthus shows increasing promise as a viable biomass crop in Iowa.  (Aikawa Ke/Flickr)
Miscanthus shows increasing promise as a viable biomass crop in Iowa. (Aikawa Ke/Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at miscanthus, an Asian biomass crop with multiple environmental benefits which may produce high yields in Iowa, according to a recent report. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

 

Transcript: Miscanthus

An Asian biomass crop with multiple environmental benefits may produce high yields in Iowa, according to a recent report.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Iowa State University researchers recently found that a non-invasive hybrid of miscanthus, a tall perennial grass related to sugarcane, may have higher yield potential in Iowa than once thought. While the plants showed difficulty getting established in experimental fields, once planted most were able to withstand two Iowa winters. Miscanthus usually hits peak production in its third year.

The plant could play a major role in Iowa agriculture as a source of biomass that can be converted into energy. It can grow alongside existing crops and in sections of fields which usually produce lower yields for corn. This would not only increase field productivity but could also help reduce runoff and improve water quality.

For more information about miscanthus, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0926669014001411

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S092666901400140X

http://dailyfusion.net/2014/07/miscanthus-iowa-agriculture-30804/

Iowa communities hopeful as water levels recede


Des Moines during the 2008 floods. Photo by Jeff Gitchel; Flickr
Des Moines during the 2008 floods. Photo by Jeff Gitchel; Flickr

Despite heavy rainfall in Iowa over the past weeks that has taken its toll on the state, some Iowa communities are remaining cautiously optimistic that the storm may have passed.

Coralville Lake is currently expected to crest at 711.3 feet, just below the spillway, and the Cedar River is already beginning to recede. Additionally, temporary fortifications along with those installed since the flood of 2008 have lessened damage in Coralville and Iowa City.

However, it is hard to predict whether or not communities are out of harm’s way, since meteorologists predict that next week’s forecasted rain will be localized.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources officials are encouraging residents to be safe over the holiday weekend, particularly if planning water recreation activities.

To monitor weather and water levels in your area, use the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS).

 

Iowa farmers affected by recent storms and flooding


Nick Fetty | July 3, 2014
Flooded field in Polk County, Iowa Photo by cliff yates; flickr
Flooded field in Polk County, Iowa in 2008
Photo by cliff yates; flickr

Recent storms and flooding has damaged crops and other property for farmers in western Iowa and neighboring states.

June’s average rainfall was 9.61 inches, roughly an inch less than July during the flood of 1993,  while water levels seen on fields has been compared to 2008 levels. Roughly $15 million has been estimated for road, bridge, and building damages caused by recent flooding which does not include damage estimates for crops. This comes on the heels of farmers planting  “the largest soybean crop on record,” an 11 percent increase compared to last year.

Iowa State University offers information for dealing with flood-damaged crops.