Mar 18, 2019

The Midwest’s flooding crisis is a terrifying preview of climate impacts to come

Norfolk, NE
USA
by
E.A. Crunden
,
ThinkProgress
Photo: Nebraska National Guard
Photo: Nebraska National Guard

Deadly and historic flooding is plaguing states across the Midwest, isolating entire towns and upending the region in what experts worry is an ominous preview of future climate change impacts.

National media has been slow to cover the tragedy, which has left several states, including Nebraska, Missouri, and Iowa, all reeling from turbulent weather conditions. As of Sunday, nine million people across 14 states were under a flood advisory.

And while the devastation is shocking, locals say it’s becoming more commonplace.

“This level of flooding is becoming the new normal,” John Hickey, director of the Sierra Club’s Missouri chapter, told ThinkProgress.

...

Connecting any one weather event to climate change is often impossible or incredibly challenging, but experts say the flooding is indicative of larger climate impacts. According to the government’s National Climate Assessment (NCA) released last fall, the Midwest is likely to see an uptick in flooding associated with global warming.

“The NCA basically said, ‘Hey, climate change is going to mean more floods in Missouri and in the Midwest,’ so this is not a surprise,” Hickey, of the Sierra Club, said.

In a statement to ThinkProgress, environmentalist and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben also drew the connection between global warming and the devastating flooding.

“Increased flooding is one of the clearest signals of a changing climate,” said McKibben. “Since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, we get increased evaporation in arid areas (think drought, and wildfire) and when that water comes down it tends to do so in torrents.”

Citing Nebraska’s flooding in particular, McKibben argued that the state’s “current trauma is part of everyone’s future.”