Climate Change mississippi river flooding map

Published on May 19th, 2011 | by Zachary Shahan

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Mississippi River Floods, Texas Drought, and Global Weirding (& Food Prices/Crises)

May 19th, 2011 by

Note: The figure predates the opening of the Spillway.

With all the climate change denier propaganda and bad messaging/confusion in the media, I have to wonder how much a ‘normal’ person recognizes the relationship between tremendous flooding of the Mississippi River and drought in Texas and a few other states (at the same time). As Joe Romm, one of the most respected (and, in my opinion, the best) climate change blogger around likes to refer to global climate change — it’s “Hell and high water.” Two of the clear, expected effects of climate change are severe droughts in some areas and severe flooding in others. This is what we’re seeing in the U.S. these days, and we’ve seen it around the world in the past year or so. But who actually realizes this is EXACTLY what climate scientists have warned us about?.. I wonder.

Of course, they continue to do so. Here’s a quote posted today on Reuters: “It’s a new normal and I really do think that global weirding is the best way to describe what we’re seeing,” climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University said (emphasis mine). “We are used to certain conditions and there’s a lot going on these days that is not what we’re used to, that is outside our current frame of reference.”

“What we’re seeing is the new normal is constantly evolving,” Nikhil da Victoria Lobo of insurance giant Swiss Re’s Global Partnerships team similarly said. “Globally what we’re seeing is more volatility … there’s certainly a lot more integrated risk exposure.”

Note: Yes, you cannot make the claim that any individual weather event is due to climate change, because you can never prove that claim. However, at the same time, you cannot NOT make the connection either, as this is exactly what climate change is about, why it matters so much to us.

Memphis is ‘one of the first’ major cities in the U.S. to get a clear taste of what climate change can and will bring us (if we don’t act FAST in switching over to a clean energy economy that uses tremendously more solar, wind, wave, and geothermal energy and that relies on bikes, buses, trains, and electric vehicles more). Even President Obama has made it out to Memphis to show his sympathy and support for the residents there. But without stronger action on Obama and Congress’ part (and note that it is largely Republicans that are holding up the show), Memphis’ disasters will be one of many, like a burning tree in a forest fire.

Wettest April on Record

A clear, major effect of global warming is more moisture in the atmosphere (think about how fast water is sucked off the ground on a hot day) and, thus, more precipitation (rain in warm weather, snow in cold). This April was the wettest April on record according to NOAA.

The Mississippi is showing us there isn’t any problem in the data collection of that. Due to heavy rains that started in the Midwest, it is breaking record after record. Andrew Freedman of Climate Central reported this week:

The Army Corps of Engineers is currently using every tool in its arsenal to manage the surge of floodwaters moving down the Lower Mississippi River towards New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. The flooding, triggered in large part by relentlessly heavy rains in the Ohio Valley during the past few months, has broken records in numerous locations, and forced the corps to make wrenching decisions of whether to inundate some communities and farmlands in order to spare more heavily populated areas.

Drought and Fires in Texas

While the is more water coming down in some places, due to the way wind blow and weather works, others aren’t getting a drop. Texas is getting unprecedented fires, for example, “with more than twice as much land area already burned than at this point in any other year in the past decade.” And due to the drought’s horrible effect on crops and people, the Texas Governor even declared 3 days of “prayer for rain” (officially). Arizona and New Mexico are experiencing much of the same.

“The National Weather Service has issued a ‘red flag warning’ for most of N.M and much of western Texas, which means that current weather conditions — high winds, low humidity, and warm temperatures — are perfect for fires,” Alyson Kenward of Climate Central reports. “In Texas, 48 percent of the state is currently in the grips of ‘exceptional’ drought conditions — the top category in the U.S. Drought Monitor — and 82 percent of the state is experiencing “extreme or exceptional” drought conditions.”

Now, as I said above, some parts of the U.S. are projected to experience such dry conditions and other extremely wet conditions. Numerous studies have shown this, such as the 2009 Global Climate Change Impacts in the U.S. report.

Food

“The massive release of water from the Morganza and Bonnet Carre Spillway, which was opened earlier this month — along with the decision to blow up the Birds Point levee — means the river is spreading across hundreds of thousands of acres of farmlands,” Kiley Kroh of Center for American Progress writes.

The droughts have hurt farmland in the Southwest.

Bottom line: flooding and drought threaten our crops, weaken our economy, increase the price of food, and cause great harm to society (not just the millions of people living in these areas).

Furthermore, sea life (which I don’t eat but which is worth discussing) from the Gulf of Mexico will be hit hard as well and there will be much less seafood from the region. Here’s more from Kroh on all that, starting with the part quoted above:

The massive release of water from the Morganza and Bonnet Carre Spillway, which was opened earlier this month — along with the decision to blow up the Birds Point levee — means the river is spreading across hundreds of thousands of acres of farmlands that contain enormous amounts of pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals that will eventually end up in the Gulf of Mexico.

In addition to immediate public health concerns, scientists are worried these pollutants will exacerbate the already enormous “dead zone” that occurs annually in the Gulf. The dead zone is a lifeless band of water off the coast that forms as a direct result of the influx of nitrogen-rich river water carrying massive quantities of fertilizer and pollution from upstream agriculture and industry. It fluctuates in size each year, and last year’s dead zone was larger than the state of Massachusetts.

Scientists expect the historic flooding could lead to the largest dead zone on record, which could stretch the massive area all the way to the Texas coast. An expanded dead zone will be a major stress on fish, shrimp, and other species struggling to rebound from last year’s oil spill because marine life will suffocate and die if it can’t swim away from or otherwise flee these hypoxic conditions. Thus, as the Thibodaux Daily Comet notes, it will be “another setback for fishermen trawling the Gulf in hopes of making up for last year’s spring fishing season, which was shut down in much of the state by the BP oil spill.”

Additionally, the unprecedented flooding will deal another major blow to the area’s already struggling oystermen. Nearly half of Louisiana’s entire oyster population was destroyed in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe when floodgates were opened upstream to reverse the flow of the river and prevent oil-contaminated water from making its way further inland. As a result, the water became too brackish for the oysters to survive. An insurance program established in the wake of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina did not cover oil spills and was dismantled soon after the BP disaster, leaving oystermen ineligible for assistance. To make matters worse, earlier this year BP reneged on promises to help Louisiana pay for rebuilding oyster beds, claiming it wasn’t the one making the decision to open the floodgates.

Just when it looked as if Louisiana oysters were staging a remarkable comeback, the impending floods, and onslaught of fresh water, will shut them down again. Another collapse would be absolutely devastating for the state that produces 40 percent of the nation’s oysters.  Mike Voisin, a seventh-generation oysterman, fears that for some of his hardest-hit colleagues, this latest setback will be “a knockout blow.”

Food & Climate Change

I’ve written about this topic a number of times. Our food supply is tremendously threatened by climate change. And what are humans without food? Rather than write more, though, here are a few pieces on the matter:

  1. Food Security & Global Weirding
  2. Food Prices Rising Fast in U.S., More to Come?
  3. World’s Biggest Looming Problem a Food Crisis?
  4. Weather Causes Grain and Food Price Spikes [VIDEO]
  5. Climate Change Also Making Food Less Safe

More on Extreme Weather and Climate Change

  1. Scott Mandia on Wild Weather in U.S. {VIDEO}
  2. Recent Extreme Weather Events in Australia, Brazil, U.S. [VIDEOS]
  3. Shifting Climate Requires New Weather “Normals”
  4. Insurers Are 3rd to Get Nailed by Climate Change

Image & caption via Climate Progress

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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.



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