The extreme storms and record-breaking floods that have devastated the Midwest, killing dozens, disrupting the nation’s infrastructure, causing billions of dollars in damage, and sending food prices skyrocketing, are consistent with the effects of global warming on the region predicted eight years ago.
In 2000, the National Assessment Synthesis Team of the US Global Change Research Program published “The Climate Change Impacts on the United States: The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change,” with regional overviews of possible and likely changes due to global warming.
In the Midwest overview, the authors noted the effects of climate change that were already evident in the region:
Annual precipitation has increased, with many of the changes quite substantial, including as much as 10 to 20% increases over the 20th century. Much of the precipitation has resulted from an increased rise in the number of days with heavy and very heavy precipitation events. There have been moderate to very large increases in the number of days with excessive moisture in the eastern portion of the basin.
The Midwest, models predicted, would suffer from both extreme precipitation and increased drought, as the region warms:
Despite the increases in precipitation, increases in temperature and other meteorological factors are likely to lead to a substantial increase in evaporation, causing a soil moisture deficit, reduction in lake and river levels, and more drought-like conditions in much of the region. In addition, increases in the proportion of precipitation coming from heavy and extreme precipitation are very likely.
This year’s floods come only two years after a drought gripped the region.
The report called special attention to the effects of the 1988 drought and 1993 flood on the critical transportation infrastructure of the region:
Climate extremes in the Midwest can drastically impede the highly weather-sensitive transportation systems that serve not only the region, but the entire nation. Chicago is the nation’s rail hub handling much of the nation freight traffic. Barges operating on the Mississippi River system, that includes the Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri Rivers, handle a large fraction of the country’s bulk commodities, such as grain and coal.
Prolonged heavy rainfall in the spring and summer of 1993 produced extensive flooding across nine states in the upper Midwest. The flood waters poured over and through many levees and inundated numerous floodplains that many of the key rail lines cross. The flood waters became an absolute barrier to surface transportation in the region for more than six weeks. Train traffic had to be rerouted around the flood area, resulting in long delays and large costs to manufacturing. River barge traffic suffered a similar fate with the additional costs to shipping and manufacturing approaching $2 billion.
A week ago, Gov. Chet Culver (D-IA) told reporters:
Very few people could anticipate or prepare for that type of event.
Unfortunately, just as with the Iraq debacle, Katrina, housing bubble, and September 11 attacks, experts warned against this type of disaster — but they have been ignored by the press and blackballed by this administration.
UPDATE: At Climate Progress, Bill Becker makes some excellent policy recommendations, and concludes:
Our sense of community now must come not from sharing disaster, but from the common effort to evolve past the carbon era. We need to pay attention to what scientists tell us we can expect from climate change, including extreme weather events. It should be obvious by now that we ignore their warnings at our own peril.
UPDATE II: In line with Becker’s post, Friends of the Earth is calling on the United States to “prepare and safeguard Midwest by changing flood control policy.”