Wet September eases drought, creates flood risk in Iowa


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Map from iowaagriculture.gov

Julia Shanahan | October 11, 2019

This past September was the 15th wettest September on record for Iowa, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. This has been able to remove drought locations that happened over the dry summer months.

Iowa’s average rainfall amounted to 6.17 inches — 2.79 inches above normal for September. The temperature average to 68.2 degrees, making it the ninth warmest September on record. While it has been able to offset drought damage, the DNR stated in a press release that saturated soils make the state vulnerable to flooding if rainfall continues.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that June 2018 to May 2019 were the wettest 12 months on record for Iowa since 1895. Iowa received extreme flooding in the spring from the Missouri River. Early snow melt from not only Iowa, but also South Dakota and Minnesota, contributed to the rising water levels in the river.

Iowa also received heavy rainfall, which some reports attributed to a changing climate and warm ocean temperatures. In the June to May time frame, Iowa received 50.73 inches of rain.

Effects of the changing climate in Iowa were seen into the summer months. The Iowa Climate Statement was released Sept. 18, which outlined trends in temperatures and how Iowa can expect more 90 degree days in a year. The report also serves as a warning to Iowans and Midwesterners to expect extreme heat, and provides guidelines on how one can properly prepare.

 

Researchers speak at statehouse about rising temperatures


Photo from Radio Iowa | Bill Gutowski speaks while Peter Levi listens in

Tyler Chalfant | September 24th

Professors from Iowa universities spoke at the statehouse last Wednesday, Radio Iowa reported. The 216 climate educators who issued the ninth annual Iowa Climate Statement represent 38 colleges and universities in the state. 

This year’s statement warned of the increased intensity and frequency of heat waves that Iowa will experience in the coming decades. The group projects that the number of days exceeding 90 degrees will more than double within the next two decades, and nearly triple by mid-century.

The scientists spoke about how these increased temperatures will put Iowans at greater risk of heat related illnesses, including heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heat stroke, or death. Scientists have predicted that rural areas will likely be hit the hardest by rising temperatures, and that the Midwest will see the greatest number of premature deaths caused by heat. 

Peter Levi, an Environmental Science professor at Drake University, said that those facing the most danger “include our friends and neighbors who work outside on a regular basis, older adults above age 65, infants and children, those individuals with chronic conditions, low-income households and our athletes.” 

Levi also said that extreme heat will harm the state’s livestock industry, as confined livestock are at increased risk of death, and won’t reach a marketable weight as quickly when stressed by high temperatures. 


“It’s not hopeless,” added Bill Gutowski, an Atmospheric Sciences professor at Iowa State University, indicating that there is still time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “I want people to realize it’s not hopeless and there are adaptations that we can do as well.”

Iowa Climate Statement 2019 released today with sobering extreme heat warnings


 

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Julia Poska | September 18, 2019

Today top Iowa climate scientists released the Iowa Climate Statement 2019: Dangerous Heat Event Will Become More Frequent and Severe, warning Iowans and Midwesterners of the serious heat-related dangers the climate crisis is creating in our region.

Read the full statement here. Watch the press conference here.

The report has been backed by 216 faculty and researchers from 38 Iowa colleges and universities. Based on the most up‐to‐date scientific sources, the statement makes clear the urgency of preparing for dangerously hot summers in coming decades.

Highlights from the statement 

  • By midcentury, temperatures in Iowa will exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit 67 days per year, compared to a 23‐day average in recent decades.
  • By midcentury, the average daily high temperature for each year’s hottest five‐day period will be 98 degrees, compared to 92 degrees in recent decades.
  •  Once per decade, five‐day average high temperature will be 105 degrees.
  • Extreme heat is the leading weather‐related cause of death in the U.S.. Low‐income neighborhoods, the elderly, outdoor workers (especially construction and farm labor) and domestic animals are especially vulnerable.
  •  Confined livestock are at increased risk for death and widespread productivity loses. Producers will need to adjust their operations to deal with extreme heat events.
  • Adaptations to increasing heat waves will require expanded disaster preparedness, increased energy use and curtailment of outdoor work and recreation during times of extreme heat.

The UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research has released annual climate statements since 2011. These statements, vetted by Iowa’s top experts, place pivotal climate change research into an Iowa‐specific context, encouraging preparedness and resilience in the face of a climate crisis.

Read the full statement here. Watch the press conference here.

Climate Assessment predicts water stress on multiple levels for U.S.


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This graphic from the Fourth National Climate Assessment shows groundwater depletion in U.S. aquifers a decade ago. Today, these underground water supplies are even more depleted. 

Julia Poska| November 30, 2018

We already know climate change is having major impacts on rainfall. The 2018 Iowa Climate Statement said the strongest rainfall events of the year may double in intensity by 2025.  Climate change will alter the hydrologic cycle in other ways as well, majorly changing society’s relationship with water.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment, controversially released Black Friday, details the forecasted changes to water supplies in the U.S.. It compiles the findings of over 300 experts and has been reviewed by 13 federal agencies, in an effort to inform top decision-makers and common citizens.

More intense rainfall will be met with more intense drought and reduced snowpack, which is bad news for communities that rely on glacial melt for their water supply. These changes are exacerbating water availability issues caused primarily by overuse of groundwater aquifers in much of the U.S..

As higher temperatures create even higher demand for water for drinking and irrigation, this problem will only get worse and worse, which will have major implications for both the food supply and the industrial sector.

The altered hydrologic cycle will impact the quality of our limited quantity of water as well. Rising water temperatures will impact the health of ecosystems, and changes  runoff patterns of pollutants into water will impact human health and pose challenges for water treatment facilities. Sea level rise could also threaten coastal drinking water supplies with the potential intrusion of saltwater flooding.

The report says the biggest water issues for the Midwest are adapting stormwater management systems and managing harmful algae blooms. Iowa is already familiar with floods produced by intense rainfall.  Algae blooms, fueled by nutrient-runoff from farm fields, will be further increased by rising temperatures.

Other water-related challenges detailed in the assessment include the deterioration of water infrastructure and managing water more strategically in the future.

 

Extreme rain causes record-setting delay for Iowa soybean harvest


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This map from Iowa Environmental Mesonet shows the extent of rainfall in Iowa this fall. These conditions have contributed to a delayed soybean harvest. 

Julia Poska | October 19, 2018

Last week, Iowa saw up to four inches of rain rain, below-average temperatures, and 10 confirmed tornadoes. The unfavorable weather has made this year’s the slowest Iowa soybean harvest on record.

As of Oct. 14, Iowa farmers had only harvested 14 percent of soybean acres in the state. , according to last week’s Iowa Crop Progress & Condition Report, put out by the National Agriculture Statistics Service. The report said that between the cold, rain and even snow, only 0.8 days during the week were suitable for fieldwork.

At this time last year, about 30 percent of Iowa soybeans were off the field. In 2016, that number was closer to 50 percent.  The 2018 Iowa Climate Statement, released last week, warns that extreme rainfall events will only get worse in Iowa as time goes on. Future years may see even later delays for harvests.

Despite the slow harvest, the bean plants themselves are a bit ahead of schedule. The report said 97 percent of the soybean crop was dropping leaves as of the 14th, five days ahead of average. Wallace’s Farmer reported that in some fields, moisture has prompted beans to start sprouting out of their pods.

Ideally, the beans only contain 13 percent moisture at harvest, but these wet conditions could cause the beans to absorb and store more water from the air, according to South Dakota’s Capital Journal. This could spell bad news for farmers, as many buyers only take dry soybeans. Farmers will have to wait longer to harvest or store their beans long-term.

Dryer conditions this week should have provided some opportunity for farmers to catch up. Meanwhile, states in the eastern Corn Belt are reporting faster-than-average harvest, according to Wallace’s Farmer.

 

 

On The Radio – 2016 Iowa Climate Statement


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Jake Slobe | October 10, 2016

This week’s on the radio discusses the sixth annual Iowa Climate Statement. The full statement can be found here.

Transcript: The sixth annual Iowa Climate Statement was released on October fifth.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The document, titled Iowa Climate Statement 2016: The Multiple Benefits of Climate-Smart Agriculture, was signed by 180 science researchers and faculty from thirty-eight Iowa colleges and universities. This year’s statement centers around Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s U.S. Department of Agriculture Initiative “Building Blocks for Climate-Smart Agriculture.” Vilsack’s initiative aims to expand nation-wide voluntary, incentive-based programs for farmers to combat human-induced climate change.

The climate statement champions proven conservation techniques such as planting perennial plants on marginal cropland and reduced-till or no till farming that would decrease nation-wide net emissions and increase carbon storage in soil. Statement authors note that the document is part of a larger effort, strengthened by the December 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, to offset human-caused climate change.

For more information about the 2016 Iowa Climate Statement or to read the full document, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

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

Media receptive to 2016 Iowa Climate Statement


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This year’s climate statement emphasized the many benefits of climate-smart agriculture. (Carl Wycoff/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | October 7, 2016

The 2016 Iowa Climate Statement was released on Wednesday with the endorsement of 187 scientists from institutions across the state and local media took notice.

A conference call was held on the morning of October 5th to announce the document’s release and to take questions from interested parties. Iowa Climate Statement 2016: The Multiple Benefits of Climate-Smart Agriculture explains why sustainable farming practices such as reduced tillage, buffer zones, and cover crops are necessary and how they can benefit farmers.

Agriculture makes up about 27 percent of Iowa’s greenhouse gas emissions. The wider implementation of practices like those outlined in the document would not only reduce emissions but store additional carbon in healthier soils, scientists say. The statement asks policymakers to further incentivize farmers to participate in conservation practices. Kamyar Enshayan, director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa, said, “You can’t just say, ‘Do it when you want to or whenever you can.’ Policymakers need to provide incentives for beneficial action.”

The release marks the sixth annual Iowa Climate Statement, a complete record of previous climate statements can be found here.

Additional press coverage of the 2016 Iowa Climate Statement is available below: