Shortly after the New Year, German insurance giant Munich Re announced that natural disaster damages were higher in 2016 than they have been since 2012.
Insurance losses totaled $175 billion over the last twelve months, which is two-thirds more than in 2015. The company counted 750 natural disasters internationally, which includes “earthquakes, storms, floods, droughts and heatwaves.” The 6.9 magnitude Earthquake that shook southern Japan was the world’s most costly natural disaster this year, claiming $31 billion in damages.
North America was plagued with the most natural disasters it has seen since the 1980’s, it experienced a total of “160 loss events in 2016.” Spring heat waves in Canada led to wildfires in Alberta, costing the region $4 billion, while August floods in the southern United States racked up $10 billion in losses.
Flood events made up 34 percent of this year’s total losses. Comparatively, these events accounted for 21 percent of total losses over the last ten years. Flash floods in Germany and France cost the region almost $6 billion this year. Peter Hoppe, head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research Unit, said these increases are related to “unchecked climate change.”
Hoppe said, “Of course, individual events themselves can never be attributed directly to climate change. But there are now many indications that certain events — such as persistent weather systems or storms bringing torrential rains – are more likely to occur in certain regions as a result of climate change.”
Indeed, a recently published report from the World Meteorological Organization outlines the relationship between human-induced climate change and the increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters. Among other examples, the authors point out that the 2013 Australian heat wave was made five times more likely because of human-induced warming.
The report said, “Extreme events are always a result of natural variability and human-induced climate change, which cannot be entirely disentangled.”
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently released its latest Water Summary Update. Each update provides an overview of the status of Iowa’s water resources using four categories: precipitation, streamflow, drought, and shallow groundwater. The latest update provides a water resource snapshot of trends from October 10 through November 3.
As Iowa heads into the driest season of the year, stretching from November through February, October was recorded as the first month since June in which rainfall fell below normal levels. “Abnormally dry,” or drought conditions persisted for south-central Iowa, with the lowest reported October rainfall of 0.54 inches recorded in Story County. Areas of north central and northeastern Iowa, which had experienced heavy rainfall throughout much of September, saw drier conditions at last.
Temperatures throughout the month of October were warmer than they have been since 2007, averaging about 4.5 degrees above normal. This season’s first freeze is yet to occur for the Des Moines metro area, as well as far eastern and southeastern Iowa. The northwest two-thirds portion of the state experienced its first deep freeze on October 13.
Since the previous Water Summary Update, streamflow in the Chartion River Basin in south central Iowa has decreased to normal levels. However, streamflow for most of Iowa remains above average. More specifically, streamflow in the Cedar, Des Moines, and Upper Iowa River basins remain far above average. The forthcoming four months not only mark the driest season of the year, but also the most hydrologically stable. During this period of time Iowa usually receives about 15 percent of the year’s total rainfall, or 5.5 inches of precipitation. In contrast, summer months in the state bring more than 18 inches of precipitation on average.
Water Summary Updates are released every two weeks or as water resource conditions in Iowa significantly change. They are prepared by the Iowa DNR in partnership with Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the U.S. Geological Survey, and The Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division. A complete record of Iowa Water Summary Updates can be found here.
Between six and eight inches of rain fell on Winneshiek, Chickasaw, Allamakee counties over Tuesday night as a series of thunderstorms moved through the area. Upper Iowa River gauges indicated that the river rose more than ten feet overnight near Decorah, Iowa. The area was pelted with almost an inch of rain per hour from Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. Residents in Freeport, a small community just east of Decorah, were hit especially hard. Those living along the Upper Iowa River received little notice. Emergency officials notified the neighborhood at about 5 a.m., after much of the flooding had already occurred.
“I woke up this morning when my neighbor called me and said ‘You out of bed yet?’ and I said no and he said, ‘Well you better get up,’ because the water was up to his deck,” said Ron Teslow of Freeport. Teslow had more than three feet of water standing in his basement, and he was more fortunate than others. Jon Aske, also of Freeport, said his basement collapsed in on itself as a result of the flooding, “About 4:15, 4:30 (Wednesday morning) we just heard a crash and the basement foundation crashed in,” he recalled. An emergency shelter was established at a local church for those that were flooded out of their homes.
In Fort Atkinson, a town twenty minutes south of Freeport, Rogers Creek, a tributary of Turkey River, was reported to have risen nine feet in three hours. City officials said that they expected the Turkey River to crest more than a foot above the 2008 flood levels later Wednesday afternoon. Mayor Paul Herold wondered, “If they’re going to call that a 500 year flood, what are they going to call this?”
Decorah City Manager Chad Bird said the situation was the same in his town.”In some areas of town, the water was higher today than it was in ‘08,” he said referring to the 2008 floods. He pointed out, however, that this flood was due to flash flood conditions whereas the 2008 incident was a prolonged flooding event.
One causality has been reported after a car was swept off the roadway by water from the Turkey River in Chickasaw County early Wednesday morning. Flood warnings stayed in effect until Thursday for most of Northeast Iowa. Richland and Crawford counties of Wisconsin were also effected.
Iowa congressman Dave Loebsack introduced a legislative proposal for a National Flood Center during his stop Monday in Iowa City.
Loebsack made his announcement at the University of Iowa’s Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory on the eve of the anniversary of the 2008 flood which devastated much Loebsack’s district in Southeast Iowa. Loebsack plans to introduce The National Flood Research and Education Act (NFREA) to congress. NFREA would establish a consortium within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and include institutions of higher education “to advance the understanding of the causes of flooding, to conduct research on flooding, flood prevention and other flood-related issues,” according to a press release. NFREA would work closely with other governmental agencies including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and build off of research already conducted at the University of Iowa and other institutions.
“We still don’t have, to this day in America, a comprehensive national flood center. A place where we can do so much of the work I think is necessary,” said Loabsack. “We have a great flood center here (at the University of Iowa). We can, I think, teach so much of the rest of the country what we’ve found here at this flood center.”
While Loabsack’s proposal does not directly call for the center to be established at the University of Iowa, he said he would welcome the idea of establishing it on the campus of Iowa’s oldest public university.
“I’d be more than happy if this is where it ended up being. I’d be totally delighted because there’s been more work done here than just about anywhere else in the country on these issues,” he said.
Bipartisan cooperation during flood events was a theme throughout Loebsack’s roughly 10-minute presentation. Loebsack – the lone Democrat in Iowa’s congressional delegation – discussed working with Republican Senator Chuck Grassley in 2008 to bring more than $4 billion in tax relief to residents and businesses following the historic flooding. The congressman also discussed how he gave former President George W. Bush an aerial tour of the disaster zone on Air Force One. He even worked with fellow congressman Steve King, who represents Loebsack’s hometown of Sioux City in Iowa’s fourth congressional district, when flooding occurred along the Missouri River.
“I called Steve King and talked to him for 25 minutes and I said ‘Steve, my office has institutional experience. We will do everything we can to help you in your congressional district,'” Loebsack said. “Steve and I don’t see eye-to-eye on very much as you all know politically and on policy, but this is something that could bring us together.”
Loebsack said the $10 million his legislation requested for funding the National Flood Center would be an investment that would save money in the future. The center would also build off of research and monitoring techniques that are already in place.
“I think we’ve got to look at flooding in a comprehensive way. I think we have to test new methods and build on promising methods and techniques so we can better predict and prevent flooding in the first place,” said Loebsack. “Having this national flood center, should we get this legislation through and get this established, I think will allow us to save lives and protect our families and our businesses and our homes and our communities. It would save us billions of dollars eventually down the road.”
“Today as we look forward to the work that we’re doing we continue to advance the technology and the flood forecasting system we have for the state but we’re also working toward creating better community resilience and how we better prepare our communities for the disasters that we haven’t yet seen,” Weber said.
“It’s becoming an example across the country for how rural residents work with urban communities to reduce flooding, to hold that water back on private lands for public benefit and really bringing that partnership together,” Weber said.
Based on the resources available and the infrastructure put in place by IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering, Weber said he is eager to do what he and his center can to make Loebsack’s proposal a reality.
“We stand ready to help, we stand ready to serve, and so we’re excited about this opportunity.”
Deadly flooding along the Mississippi River surges southward this week as areas of Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi are expected to reach moderate to major flood stages.
The river is expected to crest early this week along the Tennessee-Arkansas state line and then along the Arkansas-Mississippi state line later in the week. Parts of the Mississippi River along Louisiana may not crest for another week and half.
Missouri governor Jay Nixon issued a federal emergency declaration for his state on Saturday which was approved by President Barack Obama.
“The fast-rising flood water inundated several thousand homes and businesses and left behind a trail of destruction, debris and refuse that will have to be cleaned up quickly so that rebuilding can begin and the region can recover,” Gov. Nixon said in a press release. “I appreciate the debris removal assistance the federal government has agreed to provide, and the speed with which the president responded to our request. Federal assistance with debris removal can help ensure the region moves forward from this historic disaster.”
Though Iowa has not been devastated by flooding, heavy rains in the middle of December likely contributed to high river levels south of the Hawkeye State. Des Moines saw 3.78 inches of rain between December 12 and 14 which shattered the previous December precipitation record of 3.72 inches set in 1931. Last week Iowa governor Terry Branstad deployed roughly 45 Iowa National Guard members to assist with flood efforts in Missouri.
Normal snow levels over the winter season and cooler spring temperatures may lead to a more moderate 2014 in Iowa, according to state water and climate experts.
In an interview with KCRG, Mike Gannon of the University of Iowa’s IIHR Hydroscience and Engineering labs said that Iowa saw normal snowfall in the winter period and normal rainfall over the past few weeks, in contrast to roller coaster precipitation levels over the past three years. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources uses groundwater monitoring stations across the state to assess water quality, drought levels and future water supply.
State Climatologist Harry Hillaker told KCRG that lower temperatures have also contributed to stable groundwater levels by preventing groundwater from evaporating too quickly.
In addition to groundwater, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources also monitors Iowa’s lakes, wetlands, streams and beaches.