Iowa flooding will become more frequent and severe


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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. 

Climate change affects crop yields in varying ways


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Soybeans are less sensitive to temperature and precipitation changes than corn plants. (Kevin Dooley/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | March 23, 2018

Researchers at the University of Nebraska recently published a study which details how climate change impacts crop yield variance on a hyper-local level.

The study analyzed U.S. Department of Agriculture data from more than 800 counties across North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas from 1968 through 2013. Collectively, they found that climate change caused about 25 percent of crop yield variance during that time. While temperature and precipitation changes were responsibile for 52 percent of crop fluctuations in some counties, they did not have any effect in others.

Similarly, the three crops that were studied: corn, soy and sorghum, all responded to the changing climate differently. Corn is more likely than the other two to be impacted by rising temperatures. When corn plants are not irrigated, yields are twice as likely to be harmed by increased temperatures. However, irrigated corn seemed to do relatively well in these conditions. Irrigated soy and sorghum plants were much less likely than non-irrigated plants to be negatively impacted by precipitation and temperature shifts too.

Suat Irmak and Meetpal Kukal are the study’s authors. They say that their work makes the case for continued climate change studies which consider different climate variables, crop types and growing conditions.

“I hope we are successful in getting across the message that there are changes in temperature and precipitation, (but) those changes are different over time and location, and they are having different impacts on our agricultural productivity,” Dr. Irmak said to the University of Nebraska. “That can help high-level advisers, decision-makers and policymakers to identify locations where those impacts are greatest so that resource allocation or re-allocation can make (fields) even more productive.”

The full study can be found in the journal Scientific Reports.

On The Radio – September brings record heat worldwide


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Temperatures in Kuwait reached 123 degrees Fahrenheit on September 3rd, 2017. (flickr/Lindsay Silveira)

Jenna Ladd | November 27, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses how September 2017 set high heat records all over the world. 

Transcript: September 2017 was the planet’s fourth warmest September since record-keeping began in 1880.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Warmer-than-usual temperatures were recorded across most of the world’s land and ocean surfaces during September this year, despite the absence of an El Niño effect. El Niño events typically bring warmer weather because they cause the ocean to release warm air into the atmosphere. September 2015 is the warmest on record, with September 2016 and 2014 trailing close behind.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s September global climate report noted record high temperatures in many of the world’s oceans and in parts of Africa and Asia. The hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere was 109 degrees Fahrenheit on September 27th in Birdsville, Australia. In the northern hemisphere, temperatures soared to 123 degrees Fahrenheit on September 3rd in Mitribah, Kuwait.

So far, 2017 is on track to become the second hottest year on NOAA’S 138-year record.

For more information and to read the September global climate report in full, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

World Series game one was the hottest on record


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Temperatures soared to 98 degrees Fahrenheit by the first pitch of Tuesday’s game. (accuweather)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | October 26, 2017

The first game in the 2017 World Series, a match between the LA Dodgers and the Houston Astros, was held in California for the first time in 15 years—and brought with it a record-shattering 103 degrees. The previous World Series heat spike, 94 degrees, was recorded in 2001 in an Arizona game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees. A heat warning for the area extended well into the game and finally lifted around 8pm—or about three hours after the game commenced.

The LA Dodgers, who won the game 3 to 1, might have owed something to the heat. High heat has been proven to have an effect on the distance a ball travels across the field. The University of Nevada-Reno’s Department of Math & Science put together a chart spanning analyzing the average number of home runs per game and the average distance of a batted ball, taking the temperatures of each game into account. After sifting through data from World Series games played between 2000-2011, they found that when the heat of a game spiked beyond 75 (the determined average temperature for an MLB game), home runs for any given team increased by an average of 2, while batted ball distance increased by roughly 2ft, suggesting that heat has a tangible effect on offensive play.

The heat spike spells bad news for other California residents, however, as the increased temperatures and accompanying 50 mph winds have made the ongoing wildfires in the Northern half of the state dangerously powerful. While the LA Dodgers beat the heat and made California proud, the state’s battle with wildfires will likely not ease up anytime soon.

Global temperatures continued to rise in September


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A climate anomalies map from NOAA details significant some climate events during September 2017. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association)

Jenna Ladd | October 20, 2017

Earth’s climate continued to warm during September 2017, setting some alarming records.

September 2017 was the planet’s fourth warmest September since record-keeping began in 1880. The three warmest Septembers were in 2015, 2016 and 2014. This year’s September was especially notable because no El Niño effect was present. El Niño events typically bring warmer weather because they cause the ocean to release warm air into the atmosphere.

Even in the absence of an El Niño effect, temperatures in January through February of this year have made 2017 the second hottest year on the 138-year record kept by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In the top spot? 2016, which was 1.02 degrees Celsius above the 20th century average.

Sweltering temperatures were experienced across the globe. The hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere was 109 degrees Fahrenheit on September 27th in Birdsville, Australia. In the northern hemisphere, temperatures soared to 123 degrees Fahrenheit on September 3rd in Mitribah, Kuwait.

Record high temperatures are not without consequences. September 2017 also had the second lowest Antarctic sea ice cover during that month on record. The Arctic sea fared slightly better, coming in at number seven for record low sea ice cover during September.

A concise summery of NOAA and NASA’s September climate report can be found here.

Alliant energy offers trees at significant discounts to costumers


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Maple trees make up one-third of all trees in Iowa, making them more susceptible to disease and pest problems. (Dee McIntyre/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | October 4, 2017

Alliant Energy’s Operation ReLeaf tree distribution program will continue this week and into October. During this time, the company provides landscape-quality trees to their customers at a significant discount. Thoughtful placement of trees can cut energy costs for homeowners by providing shade in the warmer months and wind blocks during colder months.

Customers can buys trees that typically retail for $65 to $125 for just $25 each. Residential tree distributions will be held in Buena Vista, Fayette, Lee, Linn, Lucas and Story counties this October.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources provides several resources for homeowners looking to select the appropriate tree for their yards. In one of the DNR’s publications, “Rethinking Maple: Selecting Trees For Your Yard,” officials point out that maple trees make up more than one-third of all trees in Iowa, which increases their risk for disease and pest problems. The pamphlet encourages homeowners to consider other tree species based on desired qualities such like vibrant fall color, storm resistant, salt tolerant and others.

Trees will be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis at the following locations on the following dates:

Buena Vista County – Storm Lake

Partner: City of Storm Lake

Location: Kings Point Park

Date: Oct. 4, 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Lee County – Montrose

Partner: Lee County Conservation

Location: Lee County Conservation Center

Date: Oct. 5, 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Tree planting and care workshop: 5:45 p.m.

Linn County – Marion

Partner:  Linn County Conservation Board

Location:  Squaw Creek Park

Date: Oct. 7, 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.

Tree planting and care workshop:  8:15 a.m.

Story County – Ames

Partner: Story County Conservation

Location: East Petersen Park

Date: Oct. 19, 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Tree planting and care workshop: 5:15 p.m.

Climate change to significantly alter urban climates


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Climate Central and the World Meteorological Organization’s list of top ten fastest warming cities. (Climate Central)

Jenna Ladd| August 28, 2017

Climate Central in partnership with the World Meteorological Organization have created an interactive tool detailing how average summer temperatures in cities around the globe are likely to change by 2100.

The effects of global warming are often compounded in cities by the urban heat island effect, which can make cities up to 14°F hotter than rural areas. On average, land temperatures are expected rise by 8.6°F by 2100, but some cities will warm much more. For example, the analysis found that if emissions are not curbed, Ottawa, Canada is projected to have a climate comparable to Belize City by 2100. In the same scenario, residents of Chicago can expect to have a climate more similar to Juarez, Mexico.

At present, more than 54 percent of the world’s population call cities home. Given that rising global temperatures will felt more acutely in urban areas, it is no surprise that many U.S. mayors have pledged their continued support of the Paris Climate Accord, despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw.

Check out the interactive tool here to see how climate change is projected to change the climate in your city.