Bracing for Another Season of Midwest Flooding

March 3, 2020

From where I’m sitting in central Michigan, the flooded fields and soggy ground that set in a year ago are still with us. The rain swollen pond behind my house that used to only fill in spring, has remained thru the winter.

If it’s not climate change, it’s something that looks a lot like it.

Insurance Journal:

For the second year in a row, much of the U.S. is primed to suffer multi-billion dollar flood losses, with farmers already steeling themselves for planting delays.

Relentless storms that have marched across the Midwest and into the South this winter have already filled rivers to the brim and are threatening to make farm fields too soggy to plant as spring arrives. And there isn’t much to suggest an easing ahead. Heavy rains forecast through next week could push waterways higher where the Mississippi and Ohio meet in Illinois, and into northern Mississippi and Arkansas.

Most states in the American heartland have had two to three times more moisture than normal so far this winter, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. As February ends and the rains of March and April approach, it won’t take much to cause major problems for farmers in the planting season, homeowners and businesses.

“Odds are we won’t have the $20 billion in losses we had last year,” said Jeff Masters, a meteorologist with Scientific American in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “But the odds are we will see multi-billion dollar losses.”

Last year’s flooding was the costliest in the last decade, easily overwhelming the 40-year average of about $3.7 billion a year.

Flooding on the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri, as well as their tributaries, can slow the flow of grain, coal, steel, oil and gasoline across the U.S., and put greater demand on road and rail traffic. Faster currents can limit the number of barges in use or shut down waterways completely, affecting markets. Meanwhile, waterlogged fields can slow or even prevent planting.

Last spring, heavy rains kept farmers from putting more than 11 million acres of corn into the ground, the most ever. That added an extra burden to farmers who were already dealing with fallout from President Donald Trump’s trade war with China.

The locked-in wetness this year and in 2019 could be a sign of climate change, according to Jennifer Francis, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. A warmer world means the atmosphere will hold more moisture. This type of “persistence is exactly what we expect to see happen” with climate change, Francis said.

The Ohio river, which feeds the Mississippi with 60% of its flow south, nearly reached major flooding earlier this month at Cairo, Illinois. More rain is due there on the weekend, the National Weather Service reports.

“There continue to be indications that we can expect prolonged and saturating rains during this Sunday night through Wednesday time frame,” the weather service said in a hydrologic outlook. From 2 to 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) of rain is expected in the Cairo area, with as much as 5 inches expected further south.

In the north, the Red River valley that forms the border between North Dakota and Minnesota is another threat to farmers. While flooding is perennially an issue in this area, “the real issue is that there’s overly saturated soils,” said Monte Peterson, a North Dakota farmer, in an interview. “That’s not something I’ve seen in 40 years.”

Peterson still has 1,000 acres of corn he hasn’t harvested from last year, and is bracing for more planting delays this year, “You can’t help but be a little concerned that this is going to delay spring’s work,” he said.

Fox2 Detroit:

ST. CLAIR SHORES, Mich. (FOX 2) – For Nikki and Kim Grodus, had the water risen a few more inches, it would be at their home’s first floor. 

But already feet above the average height, that wasn’t supposed to be something the couple should need to be concerned about after moving in their new house in 2018.

“I looked at these windows, and you can’t see now see the edge that the water was creeping up on it, and I asked neighbors ‘gosh, is it gonna get any higher cause it’ll be coming in those windows’ and they said ‘no, it’s five feet higher than it’s ever been, so you should be fine,” said Nikki.

Nikki’s house doesn’t have the benefit of a sea wall. Their home’s unusual foundation was built with only the basement wall protecting them against the rising tides of the canal they now live on. After the high waters St. Clair Shores and other cities experienced in 2019, Nikki built up sandbags and layered protective coats on her home to buffer them from water. 

But it wasn’t enough.

“I thought the water was running in the shower downstairs. I thought somebody had left the water on,” she said. “It was pouring in here, cascading down this and pouring down all along the floor over to the sump pump.”

“The real threat is when we get above this, if it goes that seven to 10 inches higher, it’s now going to be where the wood is joined,” she added. “My fear is when it goes that high…it’s just gonna come in.”

That fear, coupled with the question ‘will this ever end?’ are sentiments being raised by residents and city managers across the state. 

“That’s the big unknown. With everything going on climate-wise, globally, is this the new normal?” asked Climatologist Richard Rood. “Is this the start of what’s ultimately gonna be the new normal?”

Rood said there’s no evidence to support the Earth’s continual warming is going to slow down anytime soon. Since the start of the industrial revolution, countries have been pumping an excess of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Fossil fuel sources like coal, oil, and natural gas now cover the Earth like a blanket, holding heat close to the surface.

 With so much greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, the planet has experienced its warmest years ever recorded in the last decade.

“Last year has settled in as the second warmest in the historical record, which then would make the last five years all in the top five of the record warmest,” Rood said. “And if you look all the way back to the year 2,000, only one year is not in that record.”

With new records being neared or eclipsed every year, Rood has drawn a brooding conclusion: “In my evaluation right now, the climate change is irreversible.”

5 Responses to “Bracing for Another Season of Midwest Flooding”

  1. redskylite Says:

    not only the mid-west. . . .

    How climate change is making record-breaking floods the new normal

  2. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    It looks like average annual precipitation in Michigan won’t change much:

    But more of that rain will come in downpours:

  3. dumboldguy Says:

    Let’s not forget the UK. A short and sweet summary with some startling graphs:

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