Solutions 3/29: Global Flooding

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By Huck Fairman

Record floods have covered much of the Midwest.

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The toll on farms across the region has been devastating.

Federal scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have warned that two-thirds of the lower 48 states face an elevated risk of flooding and 25 of those could face “major or moderate flooding.”

Dozens of levees built to protect from flooding have failed. Counties in Nebraska and Iowa report that they have never seen such widespread damage.

In 2018, New Jersey experienced record rainfall. Much of the ground remains saturated. Many local streams appear to be running at full capacity. The Delaware & Raritan canal waters have spilled over its banks. Thus far into 2019, the rain levels continue.

Nationally, the predicted above-average rain for this Spring will add to the flooding that will extend through much of the Midwest and South. In addition to that along the Missouri-Mississippi River basin, there are flooding predictions for Nevada and California.

NOAA warns that more than 200 million people may be at risk for flooding.

NOAA also warned that “chemical runoff” will be carried by flooding waters and create “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay.

In Eastern Africa, primarily in three nations, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, an unprecedented rain cyclone produced “a vast inland sea.” Millions of people have been displaced. Questions as to how they will be rescued and their lives and livelihoods put back together are unanswered.

In Brazil, new policies threaten the Amazon Rainforest, which has been deemed “the lungs of the planet,” because it produces so much oxygen and absorbs CO2.

But their new Trump-like president is undermining protections to the land, opening the area up to mining and farming – just when more forest preservation, everywhere, is needed. The impacts of these new policies will extend beyond Brazil.

What created the conditions in the Midwest?

Much of the ground was already saturated from autumn rains and flooding last year. That moisture stayed in the ground and froze over the winter.

Then, recent heavy rains and snow could not be absorbed by the frozen earth, running over it as if it were concrete. As spring approached, warming temperatures melted the snow. All along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, and their tributaries, waters have spilled over banks and breeched levees. The governors of Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa have declared emergencies. The state of Mississippi is expecting to follow.

Many Midwestern farmers have struggled financially as international markets have been reduced. Falling incomes have led to bankruptcies, which rose by 19 percent last year, and which may exceed that this year.

As recent speaker at Princeton University, Professor Solomon Hsiang, reported, the impacts of flooding and cyclones, now pretty much seen around the world, are long lasting and economically devastating. Hurricane Maria’s destruction in Puerto Rico set back development the equivalent of 26 years. And with the warmer atmosphere able to hold more water, the potential, globally, for continued deluges only increases.

The impacts in all these areas multiply upon themselves. The Midwest farmers’ fields are flooded so that they cannot plant for the coming growing season, and many farmers already owe banks for prior loans. On a number of farms, the calves drowned, leaving no future generations. Other farmers hurriedly moved their mature cows to neighboring farms, but the predictions are that the flooding will not end soon. Providing the cows with food will be an additional problem.

Elsewhere draught has led to reduced crop production, to wildfires and then, when the rains return, to mudslides and dams or levees failing.

Reports of these storms, or cyclones, and their flooding and other repercussions are increasing. Science predicts that with global warming, both rains and draughts will be longer lasting. Many recognize that wide-ranging steps need to be taken to alter the conditions that produce increasing heat and moisture. Infrastructure to protect communities needs to be built as well.

The question is: will steps be taken thoroughly and quickly enough to prevent the flooding and draughts experienced here and around the world?

Increased global warming will only intensify these threats.

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