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The Midwest floods are going to get much, much worse

An “unprecedented” flood season lies ahead this spring, according to NOAA.

Homes are surrounded by floodwater on March 20, 2019 in Hamburg, Iowa following a massive storm. NOAA forecasted this week that flooding in the midwest is going to get worse through May.
Homes are surrounded by floodwater on March 20, in Hamburg, Iowa, following a massive storm. NOAA forecast this week that flooding in the central US is going to get worse through May.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Umair Irfan is a correspondent at Vox writing about climate change, Covid-19, and energy policy. Irfan is also a regular contributor to the radio program Science Friday. Prior to Vox, he was a reporter for ClimateWire at E&E News.

Rivers continue to rise in several Midwestern states as snow from the “bomb cyclone” melts and new rainstorms bring more precipitation on an already soaked region.

The flooding, which began over a week ago, has killed at least three people and caused at least $3 billion in damages so far. Rising water levels have breached levees along the Missouri River and forced several towns to evacuate. In southern Minnesota, flood impacts spread over the weekend, according to MPR News.

Some residents of South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation were stranded for two weeks as already poor roads were blocked by floodwaters. “This is going to have a devastating effect on us, I feel,” Oglala Sioux tribe President Julian Bear Runner told Greenwire. “The tribe is utilizing any and all of its resources to try to help the communities that have been impacted.”

In Nebraska alone, the flooding has already caused more than $1 billion in damages, with more than 2,000 homes and 340 businesses lost.

More rainfall is expected in the region later this week.

On Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s spring outlook reported that the situation for the central US is soon going to get much, much worse.

“The extensive flooding we’ve seen in the past two weeks will continue through May and become more dire and may be exacerbated in the coming weeks as the water flows downstream,” said Ed Clark, director of NOAA’s National Water Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in a statement. “This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season, with more than 200 million people at risk for flooding in their communities.”

Historic floods are in store for much of the United States through May, according to NOAA.
Historic floods are in store for much of the United States through May, according to NOAA.

Waterways including the Mississippi River and the Red River of the North are already soaked with precipitation levels that are 200 percent above normal. Alongside rapid snowmelt, heavy spring rains and ice jams have led to a massive, destructive rise in water levels.

“It is possible that many parts of the Mississippi River will remain above flood stage ... into the first part of the summer in the slow-moving natural disaster,” AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski told USA Today.

More frequent and severe flooding resulting from massive rainfall is one of the more devastating consequences of climate change. As average temperatures rise, air warms and holds on to more moisture, roughly 7 percent more water for every degree Celsius increase. We’ve already seen the amount of rain dished out from major storms increase over the past century.

The past five years were also the hottest on record. And as an El Niño weather pattern takes hold, forecasters think that 2019 could become the hottest year ever. So keep an umbrella close by.

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