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Climate change brings more weather catastrophes


Fifteen inches of rain in Northwest Iowa. Unbelievable. We don’t have drenchers like that in this state. But we did.

Most of us remember well the eight, nine, or ten inches (depending on whom you talk to) that fell on Greene County back in 1993, and that we sent down the mighty Raccoon River to devastate Des Moines. Last week’s total up in the state’s northwest corner puts that event to shame. Some rivers reached record flood levels, causing damage never seen before in towns large and small. The Iowa Great Lakes and its surrounding communities shared in that damage.

But it could have just as easily happened last week in and around the Greene County area instead. The vagaries of weather fronts, wind direction, etc., steered it to northwest Iowa, southeast South Dakota, and southwest Minnesota. Pictures of the flooding are jaw-dropping.

Where the next deluge occurs is anyone’s guess. But it won’t be long until another one strikes somewhere in Iowa.

This year is shaping up to be full of more weather catastrophes in the United States than in any other year that most people can remember. Scorching heat, long-term drought, tornadoes, hurricanes, incredible rainstorms, storm-induced wildfires — seems as if not a week goes by without some devastating weather event somewhere on American soil. So-called “500-year” floods seem now to take place every few years or so.

People step up when emergencies like this happen. The aftermath of the Greenfield tornado is a typical example. Private citizens, non-profit groups, and the state and federal government converged on Greenfield, and other damaged locations in the state, starting shortly after the wind stopped blowing. They’re still there, doing what they can, and financial help follows right behind.

And steps are being taken to make whatever preparations are possible. Dams, dikes, and levees are being hardened, warning systems are being improved, emergency disaster supplies are being stockpiled.

All those steps help. But they don’t solve the problem. Americans have yet to take climate change seriously enough to do much about it, and most farms concentrate on moving excess water off the land as quickly as possible, thereby contributing to river flooding downstream.

Insurance companies, in order to keep up with claims losses from the continuing flow of weather catastrophes, are finding it necessary to raise premiums and/or reduce coverage.

Those responses hit all Iowans in their pocketbooks, and any future respite from that trend is a crapshoot.

Among the frustrations of such emergencies is the inability to prevent them. We can be warned about them, take steps to protect ourselves, and do what we can for our families, neighbors, and friends.

But there’s not much that can be done to stop a flood, or a tornado, or a heavy downpour, or a long-term drought. Prevention of those is a function of reducing climate change — there’s no doubt about that by now. And even if Iowans “got religion” about climate change, it will take similar conversion experiences of people around the nation and around the world to make a serious difference.

Not much sign of that on the horizon.

Rick Morain is a reporter and columnist with the Jefferson Herald.

Rick Morain


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