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The Frequency of Extreme “Natural” Disasters


Amid the tragic record-breaking flood in the Midwest comes a report from the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. Based on over 100 academic papers, it addresses the past and future effects of global warming.

The study implies that the increase in greenhouse gases over the last fifty years may be responsible for the increasing drought (in the southwest) and downpours, which are now occurring at a rate of three times the past century’s average.

The Midwest, meanwhile, is having its’ second “500-year” flood in the past 15 years (the first one occurring in 1993). The Cedar River in Iowa has now beaten their previous flood record by rising over 11 feet! Although this event is too recent to have been addressed in the report, it is clear that for some disasters, there are more factors involved than greenhouse gases. The Iowa landscape has been heavily restructured for urban development and farming, eliminating natural wetlands and fields containing native deep rooted plants adept at water absorption.

The reports’ predictions on future climate change are the same predictions we’ve been reading about for years; fewer cold days/nights, increasing number of hot days/nights, increasing heat waves (most pronounced over northwestern North America), more frequent and extreme downpours and droughts (notably in the southwest). What the report does add is that we will not see a slow and steady increase in temperature and natural disasters, for which we can somewhat comfortably adjust to, but instead experience sudden increases in extreme phenomena.

Extreme phenomena like two “500-year” floods in the span of 15 years? It sounds like as a country we need to strengthen our disaster preparedness and urge Iowans to build their houses on stilts!

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