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Report: While Coasts Grab Headlines, Climate Change Threatens Midwest

Researchers encourage Iowans to factor the risks of climate change into any plans for development in low lying areas. (12019/Pixabay)
Researchers encourage Iowans to factor the risks of climate change into any plans for development in low lying areas. (12019/Pixabay)
October 17, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa – Parts of the country along the coasts have been battered this year by Mother Nature, and a new study from the Midwest Economic Policy Institute warns that the threat of climate change extends much farther inland and could wreak havoc on transportation and infrastructure systems across the Midwest.

Study author Mary Craighead says policymakers need to understand the potential costs and consequences of climate change, and adds they need to be proactive to protect communities and the economy. Her report says the average air temperature has increased by more than 4 degrees since the 1980s, and there's been a 27-percent increase in the number of days of very heavy rain since the 1950s.

"The higher temperatures and the stronger storms can reduce the lifespan of roads, bridges," she says. "They can cause railways to buckle. Flooding, obviously, is a huge issue that can impact the flow of traffic, the flow of freight, which would impact our economy."

Flooding is a key issue because there has been a steady reduction in ice coverage on the Great Lakes, and more frequent freeze-thaw cycles. Craighead says there have been more electricity outages, and adds the Midwest is a net distributor of electricity to other regions. Floods, high winds, ice, snow and storms can damage facilities and above-ground transmission lines.

The study recommends limiting development in low-lying areas that already have experienced storm-related damage, and updating heat and rainfall standards used in the project-design process.

"It's just going to keep getting worse, so it's time we really need to stop debating it and start actually taking action and planning for it in the future so we don't have to deal with the ramifications after the fact, we can actually plan for it ahead of time," she warns.

The study says national infrastructure needs are expected to top $2 trillion by 2025.

Kevin Patrick Allen/Shaine Smith, Public News Service - IA