American Climate: In Iowa, After the Missouri River Flooded, a Paradise Lost
Climate Signals Summary: Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme rainfall events, and these events increase the risk of flooding. In the spring of 2019, there was severe flooding in the Mississippi River Valley and the Missouri River basin.
Article Excerpt: For two years, a home on North Street in Hamburg, Iowa, was a refuge for Kevin and Kim Johnson.
In March 2019, the Missouri River flooded and put Kevin and Kim's paradise under nine feet of water.
The flooding was a culmination of several factors—heavy rains, warm temperatures, melting snow and impenetrable frozen ground—each of which was exacerbated by a changing climate.
Iowa had just experienced its third wettest winter in over a century, according to state climatologist Justin Glisan. The soils were frozen solid when a bomb cyclone struck the Midwest, dropping two weeks worth of rain on the region in just a day and a half.
It took the floodwaters a month to recede. When the Johnsons returned, their home was unrecognizable. The yellow stain the water left on the formerly white walls stopped just inches below the ceiling. Rapidly growing mold encrusted the leftover Casey's pizza sitting on the coffee table that had been their last supper in the house. A swollen dresser laid sideways on the bedroom floor; inside of it, a battered jewelry case protected an undamaged bracelet.
"We have no fence left in the backyard," Kim said. "What we had in the backyard is almost all gone. It's flooded away. It's somewhere else."
Even if everything was fixed, Kevin said, the house would never feel the same as it was. The Johnsons decided they needed to rebuild their paradise somewhere else, on higher ground.
"I don't think we're willing to put the time and money that it's going to take to make this livable again," Kevin said.
In a changing climate, disasters like this are happening more frequently. The Johnsons fear another flood could hit this piece of land that used to be their refuge.