Climate of Change: How weather shifts are impacting Iowans - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Climate of Change: How weather shifts are impacting Iowans

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Tom Wall farms some 900 acres of land in Johnson County. Recent years have been rough. There was the drought of 2012 followed by the heavy rain last year, which kept farmers from planting.

"When you get a lot of rain and frequently, where you never get a chance to get out in the field and work," said Wall.

While rain is good for the soil, too much causes problems and experts say we're getting more rain than we used to.

"We're seeing intense rainfalls that we didn't see 100 years ago," said Jerry Schnoor, University of Iowa Professor and Co-Director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research. "It's very unusual 100 years ago to have a 4 inch rainfall in a single day. Now it's not so uncommon."

The center was founded at the University of Iowa in 1990 to study the impact of climate change here in Iowa and throughout the world.

"Iowa will be warmer and wetter, with the increase of precipitation occurring in more intense events," said Schnoor.

According to Schnoor, that means we'll all need to adapt. Farmers are using more drainage techniques and planting cover crops and cities are working on flood protection.

"Our experience and the lessons learned from the 2008 floods really put us ahead of the curve on this subject," said Rick Fosse, Iowa City Public Works Director.

Cities across Iowa have projects to help prevent flood damage.

In Waterloo, there are new lift stations.

Dubuque recently secured funding for the Bee Branch Watershed Flood Mitigation Project.

In Iowa City, officials are working to raise Dubuque Street to prevent road closures due to frequent high water.

"For projects moving forward, they'll be much more, they'll be in a better position to deal with heavy rains that are talked about," said Fosse.

In Cedar Rapids, officials are preparing to start phase one of a 20 year project which will build a system of flood walls and levies on both sides of the Cedar River.

"We don't have the revenues to begin building the flood protection system immediately and build the whole system in a few years," said Dave Elgin, Cedar Rapids Public Works Director.

Until the system is complete the city has an interim flood protection plan.

"We keep improving that plan on a yearly basis to respond to those challenges that Mother Nature seems to be giving to us on occasion," said Elgin.

Schnoor says rain is just part of the changing climate here in iowa.

"Those intense precipitation events could be punctuated by droughts, because as it gets a little bit warmer what soil moisture you have evaporates faster," said Schnoor.

Cities may need to restrict water usage.

And of course, droughts also hurt farmers but new seeds are helping them through the heat.

"We're planting better seeds now that are more drought tolerant," said Wall. "If we would have had the seeds in 2012 that we had in '88 we probably would have had a real disaster."

Those studying climate change say the cause of the heavy rains and extreme heat is simple.

"The cause of the changing climate, we believe, is due to too many greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere," said Schnoor.

Experts say we can't just adapt to the changing climate. We also need to adjust our behaviors to prevent even more changes. That means reducing our dependency on fossil fuels.

"We have to begin to decrease our fossil fuel usage and even transition out of the fossil fuel age," said Schnoor.

Many cities are working on plans to become more green.

"Sustainability is at the core of Iowa City's strategic plan," said Fosse. "It's something that we need to be thinking about in all aspects of our operations."

Researchers say the changes in the climate cannot be reversed but future damage can be prevented.

Others disagree. A new Gallup poll shows one in four americans are skeptical of global warming -- believing any changes in the environment are natural, not due to pollution.
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