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Report predicts more heavy rains for the Midwest

Impact of global warming is here but the fight is on
This map shows percent increases in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events (defined as the heaviest 1 percent of all daily events) from 1958 to 2012 for each region of the continental United States. SOURCE: National Climate Assessment 2014. Adapted from Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States.

SOLON– Between 6 and 8 inches of rain fell on Solon in a matter of hours Thursday evening, Aug. 11, sending local creeks surging out of their banks and over roads to a level never seen before.
For the second time in three years, Randall Park was extensively damaged.
A similar flash flood struck in April of 2013 when severe thunderstorms and driving winds dumped as much as 8-inches of rain on the Solon area in a little over 24-hours.
In 2004, surging waters overtook the park just a year after the new playground structure was constructed.
It’s a pattern that’s likely to increase in frequency over time as increasing global temperatures contribute to more erratic and extreme weather.
Over the last 50 years, much of the U.S. has seen increases in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, heavy downpours, and in some regions, severe floods and droughts, according to the National Climate Assessment (2014).
The National Climate Assessment, a report prepared by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States.
“One of the most statistically significant trends shown there is this observed change in very heavy precipitation,” said Connie Mutel of rural Solon, a senior science writer with the IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering laboratory at the University of Iowa College of Engineering.
“In the Midwest, we have had a 37 percent increase in very heavy precipitation compared to the previous 50 years,” she said, citing the report.
An even heavier 71 percent increase was reported for the Northeast.
“In Iowa, research shows that those downpours are coming, on the whole, earlier in the spring,” she said, when open crop land is more vulnerable to erosion.
Mutel’s 2016 book, A Sugar Creek Chronicle: Observing Climate Change from a Midwestern Woodland, mixes the science of climate change with autobiographical stories and her observations of weather changes in the woodland where she lives off Sugar Bottom Road.
In the book, Mutel draws comparisons between her own battle with cancer and the struggle humans face against global warming.
“We had an acute illness up until around 2000,” she said. “And we went to a chronic illness.
“But what we don’t have yet,” she said, “is a terminal illness.”
While earth’s climate has shifted significantly over its geological timespans, the climate has been remarkably steady over most of the 10,000 years of human history, Mutel wrote in her book.
With the commencement of the industrial age, however, mankind began burning fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) as a prime source of energy, and surface temperatures have been on the rise ever since.
Carbon dioxide is the main culprit.
When too much carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, it traps heat which would otherwise normally bounce off the earth and back into space, hence the term “greenhouse gas.”
Methane and other greenhouse gases also exert a warming influence on the planet, but carbon dioxide is a major concern because of its long half-life in the atmosphere.
About a quarter of the carbon dioxide we’re emitting now will still be in the atmosphere in 1,000 years, Mutel said.

Seventeen of the warmest years on record occurred within the last 18 years; glacial ice is melting, sea levels are rising and warming; and the frequency and intensity of some extreme weather events are increasing.
In 2015, researchers at the University of Iowa (UI) reported that Midwest and surrounding states endured increasingly more frequent flood episodes over the past half-century.
The UI researchers based their findings on daily records collected by the U.S. Geological Survey at 774 stream gauges in 14 states from 1962-2011. They found 264 (34 percent) of the stations had an increase in frequency in the number of flood events, while only 66 stations (nine percent) showed a decrease.
Warmer surface temperature increases evaporation, allows the air to hold more moisture and adds more energy to the atmosphere, Mutel said, where it pushes extreme weather in general.
“Higher winds, more intense storms,” she added.

This has not been lost on the City of Solon, which spent thousands of dollars to repair public facilities for each of the record floods.
Mayor Steve Stange recently called for the creation of a stormwater committee to address the mitigation of flooding within the city limits.
“I’m hoping there’s a lot of discussion that comes out of this,” he said at an Aug. 17 meeting. “I want to see some type of work and accomplishment so that if these folks have to go through this again we’re not holding our hand out saying, ‘We’re sorry.’”
The first meeting of the committee was held Sept. 21 after a regular council meeting.
Public Works Director Scott Kleppe said committee members discussed protection measures for the wastewater treatment plant, including the relocation of the control building or the construction of a concrete berm. The August flash flood came within inches of penetrating the structure.
They also considered what other interim measures could be taken to reduce the impact of the next flood, Kleppe said.
City Engineer Dave Schechinger has been charged with that task and is working to gather flow information on Mill Creek. In both 2013 and 2016, the city believed a restriction downstream worsened the flooding in and around Randall Park.
That restriction is an old railroad bridge which currently serves as part of the Lake Macbride Trail, Kleppe said. It’s scheduled to be replaced as part of the county’s trail plan, and the city is hoping to have input on the final flow calculations, he said.
“It’s all really preliminary,” he said. “We’re still gathering data.”

Other local governments are addressing the issue by reducing their carbon footprint (the amount of fossil fuels utilized) through renewable energies. Both Johnson County and the City of North Liberty are investing in solar arrays which would decrease demand for fossil fuel-sourced energy and, as a result, reduce emissions.
It’s part of a national trend that’s slowly gaining steam.
“California is one of the models for the world,” Mutel said. “If this country were to go the way California is going we would be way out in the forefront.”
For a long time, she said, it’s been argued economic growth couldn’t happen without increases in fossil fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions.
“In the last few years, that’s starting to decouple,” she said.
British Columbia has a successful carbon tax which has reduced emissions while the economy improved, she said.
Mutel’s son and his family live in Switzerland, where he is working to implement a plan to make that country carbon-neutral by 2050, something that stimulated both the research sector and private industry.
“Look what wind power is doing for Iowa’s economy,” she added.
Renewable energy sources come with additional benefits, she noted. No more oil spills, she said, we get rid of a lot of the air pollution which aggravates health concerns like asthma, and a general boost in environmental health and quality of life.
“It seems like it would be a no-brainer,” she said.
Creating a world fueled by renewable energy is an attainable goal, according to Mark Jacobson, Director of the Atmosphere and Energy Program of Stanford University. Jacobson also serves on the board of directors of The Solutions Project, which modeled plans to find the optimum energy mix for every single country and every state in the union.
The solution for Iowa?
Sixty-eight percent wind and 29 percent solar energy.

Mutel, who lectures about climate change, tries to point out all the good things happening to balance out the negatives in the future forecast.
“If you just tell people the potential effects of climate change, it really, really looks bad now,” she said.
For all effective human purposes, climate change is permanent, she noted.
“Even if we stopped (burning fossil fuels), even if we addressed it in a big way now, global warming is going to be with us for a long period of time,” she said.
If mankind doesn’t engage in an aggressive campaign against climate change, Mutel warned, there will be a tipping point. If Greenland melts uncontrollably, if Antarctica melts, if ocean currents change– then we’ve gone too far.
“Every single thing we do either makes climate change a little better or it makes it a little worse,” she said. “With every decision we make, we have the opportunity to improve the lives and the climate for billions of future people.”
Earlier this month, President Barack Obama announced the U.S. will join the international agreement known as the Paris Accord, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally.
The U.S. has produced the majority of the carbon dioxide which is now warming the atmosphere, Mutel said, and if our nation steps away from the Paris agreement, the rest of the world may do the same.