NOAA expects Iowa winter to be unpredictable

Iowa falls between regions of the country that will a experience particularly  cold winter and those that will have a particularly warm winter. (NOAA)
Jenna Ladd | October 21, 2016

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its predictions for winter weather on Thursday.

Last year the midwest experienced the warmest winter on record in 121 years, but this year NOAA says that Iowans can expect a grab bag of both warm and cold temperatures. Both temperature and precipitation are expected to hover around average from December through February for much of the state, except for the northern most part of the state, which is expected to be colder than usual.

NOAA also expects a weak La Niña this year. La Niña is characterized by particularly cold ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific, and often affects weather trends in the United States. Variances in La Niña’s strength and duration from year to year can make forecasting winter temperatures difficult. Mike Halpert is deputy director with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, he said, “Because there is still some uncertainly about when La Niña will develop and persist through the winter, probabilities on the maps this year are fairly conservative.”

Winter 2015-2016 was the wettest Iowa winter on record in 101 years. Other parts of the Midwest and the Western U.S. are predicted to receive high amounts precipitation this year, with Idaho, North Dakota and the Ohio Valley all among those that will be affected. Unusually cool temperatures are on the forecast from Eastern Montana through Wisconsin.

In short, NOAA expects wetter and colder than usual temperatures for the far northern Midwest and warmer with drier winter conditions for the Southern U.S., and most of Iowa falls somewhere in the middle. Much like most winters, Iowans should prepare for anything.

City council extends recycling services to all Iowa City residents

Changes to Iowa City code make curbside recycling services available to all residents of Iowa City. (Mike Mahaffle/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | October 20, 2016

Iowa City council voted unanimously on Tuesday to ramp up recycling efforts in the city.

The first consideration of the amendment to City Code Title 16, Article 3H passed  7-0. It requires recycling services to be available for all multi-family units; currently the city only services single-family households up to four units. Changes made to city code will also provide curbside food-waste collection services and prohibit residents from dumping computers and televisions into the municipal landfill.

City council member Rockne Cole is a long-time proponent of the measure. He said, “We’re looking at diverting over 1,700 tons of material from the landfill.”

University of Iowa and community environmental groups have been advocating for a city-wide recycling program for years. Jacob Simpson, UISG City Council Liaison, said that these changes benefit students who wish to continue recycling after moving off campus. He said, “At the university, we have the opportunity for students to recycle in the dorms and practice something that they’ve learned, and then a lot of the time, they have to go off campus, and they don’t have that ability,” Simpson added, “I think now that the city has taken this step to provide this in off-campus buildings, we cannot just see a benefit to Iowa City, but I think this is going to be something that benefits the state and beyond, as people become more accustomed to recycling.”

City director of Transportation Services Chris O’Brien said that all residential complexes built after January 1, 2017 must immediately comply with the new recycling policy. Landlords that own existing dwellings will be granted a grace period to get in compliance.

City council member Cole added, “It’s a real great victory for the University of Iowa, our community and most importantly, the environment.”

Energy expert Jay Hakes to visit University of Iowa

Jake Slobe | October 17, 2016

Distinguished author and lecturer Jay Hakes will be visiting the University of Iowa today to discuss energy challenges in the U.S.

The lecture, titled “Energy Challenges for the Next American President,” will focus on the upcoming obstacles that America will face in order to meet energy needs.

The lecture is part of the “Ida  Beam Distinguished Visiting Professorships Program” and will take place this evening from 5 to 6 pm and will be located in Van Allen Hall LR2. Theblecture is available for all to attend and is free of charge.

Hakes is one of the foremost authorities on U.S. energy policy and history. He has a long history working on energy issues and has held several prominent positions including a Director of the Governor’s Energy Office for Florida Governor Bob Graham,  and Administrator of the  U.S. Energy Information Administration during the Clinton administration, and Director of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library from 2000-2013.

Hakes also served as the Director for Research and Policy for President’s Obama’s BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Commission.

Hakes travels widely in the United States and the world to lecture on energy issues, and is a regular contributor to the energy news and opinion website Real Clear Energy.

Hakes’ 2008 book, A Declaration of Energy Independence, analyzes U.S. energy policy since the 1970’s and provides workable solutions to the nation’s energy dilemmas. Hakes also has two forthcoming books; one on the energy crises of the 1970s, and the other on the history of the climate change debate in the United States.


CGRER members Jerry Schnoor, Larry Weber and Gene Takle share climate and flood prevention expertise with Iowans

The Iowa River overflows onto the University of Iowa campus following the 2008 flood. (rachaelvoorhees/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | October 18, 2016

In the face of more frequent flooding and much heavier rains, it is estimated that Iowa will need $4 to $5 billion to protect its communities moving forward. 

Flood mitigation efforts in the state thus far have centered around building levees, flood walls, and protecting utilities, but Iowa researchers have found that upstream structures like wetlands and detention pounds are an effective means of flood prevention. Sen. Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids said that some lawmakers have acknowledged the need to ramp up these strategies, but the conversation is often buried by health care and education budget arguments. Hogg said, “If you can’t reach agreement over funding the basics, it’s really hard to get to the next level, to discuss funding water management.”

The increasing frequency of extreme rainfall may demand that flood mitigation take center stage at the capital. “We were hard-pressed to get 4-inch rainfalls 100 years ago, and now it’s very common,” said Jerry Schnoor, co-director at the University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research. Eugene Takle, director of the climate science program at Iowa State University, agreed, “In the Cedar River basin, we found the 100-year flood a century ago is now very likely to be a 25-year flood.” The Cedar basin’s record flood in 2008 had a $5 billion price tag.

Takle and other experts say these changes are primarily due to climate change. Rising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere allow it to hold more water vapor. “When you have more water vapor, you can expect more rain events,” he said. Takle’s data support this claim: atmospheric water vapor has increased by 31 percent in the winter months since 1970 and by 14 percent in the spring; average annual rainfall in Iowa has risen by 33 percent since 1970. Takle said, “This is consistent with what the climate models said would happen. The Midwest has experienced a big increase in extreme events.” According to NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, Iowa has had 26 flood disasters with damages adding up to more than $1 billion since 1980.

Larry Weber, director at the University of IIHR – Hydroscience & Engineering, parent organization of the Iowa Flood Center, said that the loss of prairie potholes and wetlands, which can soak up heavy rainfalls, has contributed to these flooding events. He said, “We’ve taken away a lot of those natural storage areas.”

Iowa lawmakers passed a sales-tax funding plan in 2012 to provide $1.4 billion in flood prevention structures, but more funding is needed. Eight-nine towns and cities have identified $35 million in flood prevention structures that do not have funding. Some Iowa lawmakers are working to increase the sales tax by three-eighths of 1 cent in order to fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, which would provide $180 million each year to restore wetlands, protect wildlife habitat, reduce runoff and improve trails, and more.

One and a half million dollars in federal supplemental aid money allocated to the Iowa Flood Center’s Iowa Watersheds Project after the 2008 flood has reduced flooding downstream by 15-20 percent in the Otter, Beaver and South Chequest watersheds. The center received $98 million in federal grant money this year for similar flood mitigation projects in 25 additional watersheds. Weber said, “We’re making great strides in the places where we work, we just need to be working in more places — whether it’s through our projects, or the work of other state and federal agencies, private landowners, and nonprofit groups.”

2016 ranks third wettest ‘water year’ since 1872

Each bi-weekly Water Summary Update provides the current status of water resources in Iowa in terms of precipitation, stream flow, shallow groundwater, and drought monitoring. (Iowa DNR)
Jenna Ladd | October 14, 2016

Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) released its most current Water Summary Update earlier this week.

DNR prepares the bi-weekly updates in collaboration with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the U.S. Geological Survey, and The Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division. Each report provides an overview of the status of Iowa’s water resources and significant events that affect water supplies using four categories: precipitation, stream flow, shallow groundwater, and drought monitoring.

The most recent update is a snapshot of the state’s water resources from August 31st through October 10th. The report notes that different parts of Iowa experienced a wide range of rainfall totals. Heavy rains pelted the Cedar River watershed during much of September, with the largest storm-total rainfall of 10.56 inches near Nora Springs in Floyd County. In contrast, some parts of southeastern Iowa experienced a particularly dry September. Most notably, rain totals were less than one-third of the average near Fairfield and Ottumwa. Average statewide rainfall was 6.29 inches or 2.91 inches above average, making it the rainiest September since 1986.

Streamflow was also reported to be above average for much of the state. The update notes that U.S. Geological Survey employees have been taking additional streamflow measurements following heavy rain events at the end of September in the Cedar and Wapsipinicon River basins. In several locations along the Shell Rock, Cedar, and Wapsipinicon Rivers, peak stream flow was found to be the second-highest in recorded history. These values are only topped by the historic 2008 flood.

October 1st through September 30th is considered the “water year” by experts in the field. The 2016 Water Year, which ended on September 30th, 2016, is the third wettest year on record in 144 years.

EnvIowa Podcast: Dr. Betsy Stone discusses upcoming annual Iowa Climate Festival

Jenna Ladd | October 13, 2016

The third annual Iowa Climate Festival will take place at the University of Iowa’s Museum of Natural History on Saturday.

As with previous festivals, the event will be split into two parts. First, The Iowa Climate Symposium will feature three presenters followed by panel discussions with audience members. Dr. Betsy Stone, associate professor of chemistry at the University of Iowa, organized the first Iowa Climate Festival in 2014. She said, “The theme of the symposium this year is: Now that we have a growing consensus on climate change, where do we go from here? So this is really looking toward the future.”

Following the symposium, participants will be invited to participate in interactive experiments that are related to climate change at the Climate Science Fair. Stone said, “We have a lot of really exciting hands-on experiments that people can explore and use to understand more about climate science.” She added, “A lot of these [experiments] were developed with elementary or middle schoolers in mind, but we’ve done these at lot of different events and adults get really excited about it too.” The event is scheduled to begin at 2 pm and is free, open to the public, and family friendly.

This year’s Iowa Climate Festival is sponsored by the American Chemical Society (ACS) and is hosted by the Iowa section of the ACS in partnership with the University of Iowa Department of Chemistry, Museum of Natural History, Office of Sustainability, and Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER).

To learn more about the festival’s featured speakers and specific exhibits at the Climate Science Fair, listen to episode two of EnvIowa above or find it on iTunes.

Plan to curb air-pollution in India released last week

Haze and particulate matter are visible in this photo taken west of New Delhi. (Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | October 11, 2016

Ten solutions for breathable air in India were presented at the The Energy and Resource Institute’s World Sustainable Development Summit last week in New Delhi.

The National Clean Air Mission follows a recently released World Bank report which announced that air pollution led to 1.4 million deaths in 2013. The report, which was presented by The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI) along with University of California-San Diego, is a part of a larger governmental initiative called Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or Clean India Mission. Seventeen authors from institutions around the world including the University of Iowa, IIT-Kanpur, Stockholm University, University of Maryland, Max Plank Institute, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the California Air Resource Board contributed to the report.

The report said, “This Clean Air Mission should…mandate…government policies for air pollution mitigation across several ministries dealing with transport, power, construction, agriculture, rural development and environment as well as across city and state jurisdiction.” The document also emphasized the need to address the burning of agricultural residue as a major source of air-pollution. It said, “This strategy aims at reducing open burning of agricultural residue and instead of using them as a source of energy.”

Beyond agriculture, the report noted that transportation is a main contributor to air-pollution in the country. Sumit Sharma from TERI said, “Shifting freight transport from road to lower-emission modes like rail and inland waterways and coastal shipping is required.” It also suggested that India scale up its emission trading schemes (ETS), which are government-mandated, market-based systems of controlling pollution. The report read, “The government is already working with ETS in three industrial clusters in Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, which needs to be scaled up.”

The report’s authors also suggested the development cleaner fuel options while focusing on larger particulate matter and ozone in the air.