Midwest Climate Disaster

Although I’ve been studying climate science most of my life, one of the scariest things about climate change are the unexpected problems that continue to appear. I was surprised by polar vortexes, which seem to becoming an annual occurrence.

I also hadn’t known about ‘bomb cyclones’ until the one that occurred in the Midwest recently, with devastating effects, including blizzards with high winds, and tornadoes. Unfortunately the historic flooding that began with the cyclone will continue for weeks or months as the huge amounts of snow deposited during the winter melt. With the low temperature over the winter keeping the soil frozen or saturated with water already, most of the melting water will rush into the rivers instead of being at least partially absorbed by the soil, causing significant erosion, and keeping rivers above flood stage for weeks more. As the frozen snow packs break up, ice in the water can trap livestock, cause more damage to buildings and infrastructure, and scrap off the fertile topsoil. Deep gullies will facilitate further erosion with future rainfall. Bridges, dams, levees and roads have been destroyed.

People have been isolated in their home communities. A New York Times article describes the devastation in Native communities.

PINE RIDGE, S.D. — Ella Red Cloud-Yellow Horse, marooned for days by a blizzard and then a flood, needed to get out. Supplies at her house were running low. She had come down with pneumonia. She had a chemotherapy appointment to keep.
But her long driveway was blocked by mountains of mud — impassable even for an ambulance or a tractor.
So Ms. Red Cloud-Yellow Horse, 59, set off toward the road on foot. She fell repeatedly, almost got swept away in the current of a creek, and became stuck in the mud. Finally, more than an hour later, she made it the half-mile to the highway where she was picked up.
“I couldn’t breathe,” she said, “but I knew I needed to get to the hospital.”
Such stories are startlingly common these days on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota — a stunning stretch of land larger than Delaware — as an overwhelming bout of snow and flooding has set off a humanitarian disaster that seems unlikely to abate soon.

‘A State of Emergency’: Native Americans Stranded for Days by Flooding. On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, extreme weather and bad roads have left some residents stranded for nearly two weeks with limited food and water. Mitch Smith, 03/24/2019

The flooded fields made it impossible to reach some livestock, contaminated water supplies, and ruined corn stored to feed livestock, all resulting in the death of many animals. The extended flooding means crops might not even be planted in many areas of the Midwest, and yields from the degraded soil are likely to be significantly lower. Many farmers face economic ruin and the nation’s food supply is threatened. Food prices are going to increase significantly.

Damages are estimated to be close to 2 billion dollars. But the long term damage to the topsoil is perhaps the greatest consequence. Topsoil requires years to regenerate, and crops may not be planted, or result in reduced yields during those years of rebuilding the soil.

As all this was/is going on, temperature records are being broken in Alaska:

On Tuesday, Klawock, Alaska topped out at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. That marks the earliest 70-degree Fahrenheit day ever recorded in Alaska. The previous record was set just three years ago when Klawock reached 71 degrees Fahrenheit on March 31. In comparison, many cities in the Northeast have yet to crack that mark.

“It was 70 degrees in Alaska this week”, Brian Kahn, Earther, 3/22/2018, File under: Baked Alaska
Earther

Hopefully these increasingly dire situations will bring more urgency to trying to find solutions. The only solution I am aware of to tackle this is the Green New Deal. And the steady witness, with nonviolent civil disobedience by the youth in the Sunrise Movement, are helping make climate change an issue in Congress, finally. One of the first objections to the Green New Deal is how to pay for it. But people are finally beginning to realize the costs of doing nothing will far exceed the costs of a Green New Deal. One way to learn more about a Green New Deal, and to get involved is to attend the Green New Deal Tour, which will be in Des Moines April 22. https://www.sunrisemovement.org/tour

References

The Hidden Catastrophe of the Midwest’s Floods. The “bomb cyclone” threatened the region’s most valuable resource. Mother Jones,TOM PHILPOTT, MARCH 20, 2019

Flooding. On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, extreme weather and bad roads have left some residents stranded for nearly two weeks with limited food and water. New York Times, Mitch Smith, 03/24/2019

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