2017 Iowa Water Year summary released

The Iowa DNR recently released the 2017 Water Year summary. (Dirklaudio/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | October 10, 2017

The 2017 Water Year came to an end recently according to a report from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The “water year” runs from September 30th through October 1st. Overall, the 2017 water year has been drier and a bit warmer than usual. The statewide precipitation average was about 32 inches, which is roughly 3.28 inches less than usual. Precipitation was around average during the winter months, but fell below normal during the summertime.

Temperatures in the state averaged 50.7 degrees Fahrenheit, which made 2017 the fourth warmest year on the Iowa DNR’s 144 year record. While temperatures were mostly typical during the growing season, they were higher than usual for most of the winter months. This year brought the second warmest November and the third warmest February on record.

The complete 2017 Water Year summary can be viewed here.

An economic argument for slowing climate change

Damages from Hurricane Harvey are estimated to exceed $100 billion. (Jill Carlson/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | September 29, 2017

Human-induced climate change costs more than the U.S. economy can afford according to a recent report from the Universal Ecological Fund.

The Economic Case for Climate Action in the United States,” published recently by the non-profit research organization, found that severe weather intensified by climate change and the health impacts associated with burning fossil fuels have cost the U.S. economy $240 billion per year in the last decade.

Economic losses due to extreme weather have doubled in the last ten years. To illustrate this point, the authors point out that Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria caused an estimated $300 billion in damages, which is double the $145 billion in losses caused by all hurricanes in the last decade.

The press release points out that the number of extreme weather events costing $1 billion or more in damages has increased by 400 percent since the 1980s. Iowa, for example, has endured three floods costing more than $1 billion in the last decade, up three fold since the 1990s.

If climate change is not curtailed, researchers predict annual costs associated with severe weather and the health impacts of greenhouse gases will reach $360 billion.

Sir Robert Watson, coauthor of the report and former Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said during a press conference, “Simply, the more fossil fuels we burn, the faster the climate continues to change and cost. Thus, transitioning to a low-carbon economy is essential for economic growth and is cheaper than the gigantic costs of inaction.”

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

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.




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.

Asphalt: both victim and culprit of Iowa flooding

Flood damage to Highway 1 north of Solon after 2008 floods. John Johnson/Flickr
Flood damage to Highway 1 north of Solon after 2008 floods. John Johnson/Flickr

Heavy rainfall throughout Iowa over the weekend caused flash floods in several cities, resulting in two deaths and causing millions of dollars in infrastructure damage.

Some of the most striking damage was to Iowa’s roads. Floods closed off residential roads and highways across the state, including Iowa Highway 14 north of Marshalltown and sections of Highway 330. Emergency repairs have closed off Highway 1 near Mt. Vernon after floodwaters washed out a bridge on Monday.

Asphalt and concrete play a unique role in flooding as both victim and culprit of the damage. The surfaces of our roads and highways are made of two of the least absorbent materials around, resulting in immediate runoff and significant damage if drainage systems aren’t in place. This often results in heavy damage to roads and structures themselves, when the combination of soaked and washed-out soil beneath and high pressure from floodwaters above causes cracks, displacement and collapses.

Fortunately, most Iowa cities have vast drainage infrastructures to prevent roads from becoming waterlogged. Yet continued heavy rains, like Iowa’s record rainfall in June, will continue to put those systems to the test.