Report: Bad storms are getting worse and more frequent in the Midwest

News, Weather

May 16th, 2012 by Ric Hanson

A report from a non-profit environmental group says extreme storms are hitting the Midwest more frequently and the flood damage they’re causing is getting worse. Stephen Saunders, president of the Denver-based Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, says their research covered records from more than 200 weather stations in Iowa and seven other Midwestern states from the years 1960 through 2011. The lead author of the report, Saunders says, “We found the total precipitation from all the storms in the Midwest went up at a rate of 23% over that 51-year period.” Scientists point to global climate change, he says, as the culprit behind the rising severity of storms over the five decades. During that time, there was no change in the pattern of minor storms, while they found the nastier storms appeared much more often.

Saunders says, “The frequency of storms that dumped 1-2″ of precipitation in a day went up by 34%, storms of 2-3″ went up by 81% and what we call the extreme storms, those that had 3″ or more of precipitation in a day, went up by 103%.” Incidences of the most severe downpours doubled over the last half century. “The last decade, the last dozen years, has been particularly tough,” Saunders says. “Of the first 12 years of this century, seven of the nine worst years for extreme storms in the Midwest occurred in those 12 years.” The study found the two most destructive years for flooding in our region during the five decades were 1993 and 2008, years that hold foul memories for many Iowans.

“As people who lived through those floods in the Midwest know, those were two years of the worst flooding the Midwest has had in more than 80 years,” Saunders says. “In 2008, the flooding caused $16-billion in damages and in 1993, the flooding caused $33-billion in damage in the Midwest.” He says global studies already blame human-caused climate change for driving more extreme precipitation, and if emissions keep going up, Saunders says the forecast is for even more extreme storms in the region. One of the group’s recommendations is: enacting comprehensive mandatory limits on global warming pollution to reduce emissions by at least 20-percent below current levels by 2020 and 80-percent by 2050. The report is called, “Doubled Trouble: More Midwestern Extreme Storms.” Learn more at the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization website: www.rockymountainclimate.org

(Matt Kelley/Radio Iowa)