Flood-drought-flood: Is this the new normal?
Flooding at the Public Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich.
The good news: Heavy rainfall across the Midwest has helped ease a widespread drought.
The bad news: Rainfall has been so heavy that drought has been replaced by flooding
The scary news: The cycle of flood-drought-flood that has ravaged the Midwest over the past two years is the type of cycle that climate change is expected to bring to the region, and it could become the new normal.
Heavy river flooding in six Midwestern states that forced evacuations, shut down bridges, swamped homes and caused at least three deaths was at or near crest in some areas Sunday evening.
Rivers surged from the Quad Cities to St. Louis Sunday, with water levels reaching record heights. Hours earlier, National Guardsmen, volunteers, homeowners and jail inmates pitched in with sandbagging to hold back floodwaters that closed roads in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Rain last week started the whole mess, causing the Mississippi and many other rivers to surge in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana. Flooding has now been blamed in three deaths — two at the same spot in Indiana and one in Missouri. In all three cases, vehicles were swept off the road in flash floods.
Spots south of St. Louis aren’t expected to crest until late this week, and significant flooding is possible in places like Ste. Genevieve, Mo., Cape Girardeau, Mo., and Cairo, Ill.
Adding to concern is the forecast. National Weather Service meteorologist Julie Phillipson said an inch of rain is likely in many places Monday night into Tuesday, some places could receive more than that.
“That’s not what we want to see when we have this kind of flooding, that’s for sure,” Phillipson said.
The flooding of the Mississippi River is quite the contrast to the situation just a few months back, when low water levels were threatening the barge industry. But it resembles the flood of spring in 2011. From Weather Underground:
Residents along the Mississippi River have experienced a severe case of flood-drought-flood weather whiplash over the past two years. The Mississippi reached its highest level on record at New Madrid, Missouri on May 6, 2011, when the river crested at 48.35′. Flooding on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers that year cost an estimated $5 billion. The next year, after the great drought of 2012, the river had fallen by over 53′ to an all time record low of -5.32′ on August 30, 2012. Damage from the great drought is conservatively estimated at $35 billion. Next Tuesday, the river is expected to be at flood stage again in New Madrid, 40′ higher than the August 2012 record low. Now, that is some serious weather whiplash. …
The new normal in the coming decades is going to be more and more extreme flood-drought-flood cycles like we are seeing now in the Midwest, and this sort of weather whiplash is going to be an increasingly severe pain in the neck for society. We’d better prepare for it, by building a more flood-resistant infrastructure and developing more drought-resistant grains, for example. And if we continue to allow heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide continue to build up in the atmosphere at the current near-record pace, no amount of adaptation can prevent increasingly more violent cases of weather whiplash from being a serious threat to the global economy and the well-being of billions of people.
John Upton is a science aficionado and green news junkie who
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