Farmers and residents across the Midwest are currently “living climate change,” according to experts and scientists who are observing catastrophic flooding from one of the rainiest springs on record.
Since March, heavy rains in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, and other states have led the Mississippi River and other waterways to overflow, with the Mississippi cresting at more than 21 feet in one Iowa city on Sunday—the second highest level since historic flooding in 1993 decimated farms, homes, and whole towns.
At least three people have been killed as a result of the floods so far, and tens of thousands have been displaced.
Drone footage from Sunday showed a levee on the Mississippi River breaking, forcing 250 people from their homes in the middle of the night in Winfield, Missouri.
Climate experts including meteorologist Eric Holthaus and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben tweeted that the “unprecedented” flooding was new evidence of a “hot new world.”
While a rainy season is not necessarily indicative of the effects of the climate crisis, the nonprofit climate action group Earthjustice wrote that the relentlessness of the current flooding and its level of destruction “is not normal.”
As Common Dreams reported last week, the especially rainy season has been linked to an unusually high number of tornadoes in the Midwest and all the way to the East Coast in recent weeks. About 270 tornadoes were recorded last month, including several that hit the region over 13 consecutive days.
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As National Geographic reported Monday, the floods serve as some of the most tangible evidence that the changing climate is affecting farmers’ livelihoods.
Increased water vapor in the atmosphere can result from a warmer climate, and “climate scientists say the devastating rains falling over the Midwest are exactly in line with what they’ve been predicting,” Sarah Gibbons wrote.
“Overall, it’s climate change,” Donald Wuebbles, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told National Geographic. “We expect an increase in total precipitation in the Midwest, especially in winter and spring, with more coming as larger events.”
“We are living climate change right now,” added Evan DeLucia, a plant biologist at the university.
For farmers, extreme flooding has meant they are able to plant far less corn and soybeans, as heavy rainfall can be just as damaging to crops as drought and extreme heat. Only 58 percent of the former and 29 percent of the former were planted by the end of May, as growing season was nearly over. Farmers shared the flood’s effects on their crops with the hashtag #NoPlant2019.
As a result of the unusually rainy spring, National Geographic reported, farmers can expect to pay more for corn that they use to feed livestock while consumers will likely pay more for corn and soy products as well.
While many of the warnings about the effects of the climate crisis focus on coastal cities being washed away by rising sea levels, Megan Molteni wrote last month at Wired, “climate change will bring more moisture to the middle parts of the country too”—a shift for which the Midwest is poorly equipped.
“After decades of draining wetlands and clearing forests for agricultural use,” wrote Molteni, “those changes to the timing, type, and amount of precipitation will fall on a system already profoundly altered in ways that make flooding much more likely.”
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