Climate change usually leads people to think about the North and South poles. After all, the polar bear is the unofficial mascot of climate change. However, climate change shows its effects right here in the united States. Perhaps one of the most obvious regions is the Midwest. Home to tornadoes, flooding, blizzards, and drought, the Midwest is – with the exception of hurricanes – home to many of the weather extremes within the continental United States. With some research pointing to climate change increasing the likelihood of extreme weather events, the chances of the Midwest being affected are significant.
Hosting a vast amount of the nation’s fresh water supply and water transportation routes with the Mississippi River system (including the Missouri and Ohio rivers) and the Great Lakes, the cycles for flooding and drought take a large toll on the region and impact the entire nation. Drought can end up shutting down portions of the river systems for transportation or cause cities/states to spend thousands upon thousands dredging ports to accommodate boats. Flooding can cause the degradation in quality of this huge supply of fresh water. It can also cost the region millions, if not billions (depending on the severity), of dollars due to so many large communities being located along the major river systems.
The Midwest also is home to the “Nation’s Breadbasket”. Flooding and drought can wreak havoc on crop yields. The extreme nature of both can end up decimating crops and costing farmers vast amounts of their projected yearly income. Temperature variances (early warm spells, followed by sharp declines such as nighttime frosts and freezing) can wipe out entire crops of fruits such as Apples or Cherries, both of which are prevalent in the Midwest.
With portions of “Tornado Alley” being in the Midwest, increases in the frequency and/or severity of tornadic activity would not only have an economic impact but could directly lead to the deaths of Midwesterners. While the science is mixed as to whether climate change is creating an environment more friendly to tornadoes, any increase would certainly be felt in the Midwest.
As a child I frequently remember winters in Michigan where my parents would have to dig tunnels in the snow just so I could get around. Recent years have seen the amount of snowfall decreasing, the EPA says this is due to a warmer planet. However, we have also seen a number of media frenzied blizzards hit the Midwest the past few years. While I recall large amounts of snowfall, I don’t remember it shutting down our town for days as some recent blizzards have done to cities in the Midwest.
While the debate continues to rage as to who or what is responsible for climate change, the variances in weather have become much more noticeable. This is, in part, due to the ever-connected lives that Americans live now. The 24-hour news cycles demand information and few things are more sensational than extreme weather. What is clear though is that changes in the climate and weather stand to affect the Midwest in a manner unlike other regions in the U.S. With such a large agricultural base and huge amounts of water, extreme weather events impact the lives of so many in the Midwest whether it’s through their wallets or their personal safety.