Devastating floods across the Midwest are expected to cost the country at least $3 billion in damages to homes and farms.
This is likely only the beginning as unprecedented flooding is expected to continue into the spring across the United States, according to a new forecast by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), putting millions of Americans at risk of serious inundation.
According to NOAA, an extremely wet winter is driving the flood risk, as “several portions of the country received accumulated precipitation exceeding 200 percent of average to date.”
Nebraska is currently experiencing its worst flooding in half a century. At least three people have died in the aftermath of last week’s “bomb cyclone,” which passed through the region. The rain from that weather event, coupled with record-breaking snowfall earlier in the season that has been melting, caused rivers to crest and submerged vast areas underwater.
Several other states, including Iowa and Missouri, are also grappling with the destruction of numerous homes and large swaths of agricultural land.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) reportedly said that while there have been disasters with greater loss of life, he didn’t think “there’s ever been a disaster this widespread in Nebraska.”
According to the Nebraska Farm Bureau, farm and ranch losses due to the flooding could total $1 billion, with more than $500 million in livestock losses alone. Estimates reported b The Washington Post put damages in Nebraska at a total $1.4 billion. Agriculture represents 20 percent of the state’s gross domestic product and provides a quarter of all jobs in Nebraska, according to the Associated Press.
The flood damages incurred by Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, one of the nation’s most important air bases, are expected to cost significantly more than it would have cost to prevent the damages — despite officials’ knowledge that the base was at risk from flooding.
Meanwhile, in Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) said the floods have caused an estimated $1.6 billion in damage to the state. The cost of repairing damages to homes is expected to reach over $480 million as an estimated 1,200 residences have been destroyed or seriously damaged. Businesses will take a $300 million hit and agricultural damage in the state is expected to total $214 million.
It is also expected to cost an estimated $350 million to repair 70 miles of broken levees in Iowa that have been damaged or destroyed by the floods.
At least a dozen levees across the three states breached and flooding is expected to continue as water levees remain high along the Missouri River. However, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for maintaining levees, repairs usually take about six months. With the most flood-prone time of the year beginning mid-May, this means the area is at risk of further flooding in the near future should the levees not be repaired in time.
Missouri officials have yet to release estimates for addressing flood-related impacts in the state.
While visiting the region this week, Vice President Mike Pence said the Trump administration will expedite presidential disaster declarations for Nebraska and Iowa. Pence called the flooding “extraordinary” but made no mention of climate change.
Despite the historic flooding taking place in the United States — as well as in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi — Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler this week said he believes climate impacts are still “50 to 75 years out.”
The government’s own National Climate Assessment, on which Wheeler’s EPA signed off, states the exact opposite. “The impacts of climate change are already being felt in communities across the country,” the first line warns. The assessment also emphasizes that increased flooding in the Midwest is one of the expected impacts of a warming world.
Scientists are clear that climate change will make events like hurricanes, flooding, wildfires, and heatwaves all more intense — and more expensive. Last year, for instance, the United States experienced 14 separate billion-dollar disasters, according to NOAA data. Just three of these accounted for the bulk of the total $91 billion: Hurricanes Michael and Florence and wildfires in California.
Three months into the year and with unprecedented flooding expected to continue, this year looks to be another expensive one. “The extensive flooding we’ve seen in the past two weeks will continue through May and become more dire and may be exacerbated in the coming weeks as the water flows downstream,” said Ed Clark, director of NOAA’s National Water Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season, with more than 200 million people at risk for flooding in their communities.”