National weather experts on Tuesday painted a bleak picture of what future floods might look like in the Quad-Cities under changing weather patterns that the majority of climate scientists say is caused by humans.
Much higher levels of precipitation — as much as 15% — could result from the average local temperature rising by several degrees over the next few decades under the current global rate of fossil fuel consumption, said Ray Wolf, a longtime climate expert with the local arm of the National Weather Service. He pointed to record-setting flood this year — and several of the all-time flood records occurring since year 2000 — as the negative effects of climate change, for which Davenport has had a front-row seat.
“We are confident that higher levels can and will occur in the future,” Wolf said Tuesday during a presentation for the mayor’s recently formed task force that is studying possible solutions for fighting floods. Wolf added that “it’s hard to look in the future and not have a conversation about climate change.” And while he understands it’s a politically charged issue for many, Wolf said “it’s not politically charged among the scientists that research climate.”
The presentation given by area climate experts, which included years and months of graphic data, also showed recent patterns of heavy snowfall to the north, the gradual rate of melt into the Mississippi River system and the rainstorms that came during the parts of a wet spring. In the winter, local experts already knew there was a 50/50 shot of a record event occurring this year, though their worst-case scenario for this year was several feet higher than the record crest the city saw this year.
All things considered, a drier period in late March and a “favorable rate of snowmelt” resulted in an event that was well below what the city could have experienced, said Jessica Brooks, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service.
“Those factors all led to what we had, but it seriously could’ve been worse,” Brooks said.
The remarks came during the second meeting of a task force that was created by Mayor Frank Klipsch to explore long- and short-term solutions for a community that regularly experiences flooding. The Flood of 2019, which reached its highest crest in May, has wreaked havoc on city resources, cost millions in damage and lost economic activity, and at least indirectly affected most of the city’s residents.
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Following the presentation, some task force members pointed to a need for swift action to protect the city from a stronger and fiercer Mississippi River.
Paul Rumler, the president and CEO of the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, recalled the major flooding that struck Iowa City and Cedar Rapids in 2008. He said area leaders acted swiftly, and the result has been “tremendous” economic development in areas where disaster had devastated the Iowa River communities only a decade ago.
“I think we need that type of swift movement so we can protect the $500 million worth of investment we’ve made over the last 20 years,” Rumler said, adding: “If we wait for some holistic approach, we’re not going to see that.”
Rumler also questioned whether the city was actively looking for money to pay for a study so that “when we’re done with this task force it leads to something.”
“I’m concerned at this point in time that we’re meeting to meet,” Rumler said. “If we’re going to have a conversation, then I’m just curious — then what? How fast do we move?”
Klipsch pushed back on that. He said the city is still evaluating other funding sources that may be available to help pay for the long term study, and officials are looking to “move that as quickly as possible.”
“I don’t think there’s any situation trying to delay the process here in any way,” Klipsch added. “But I think we’re all finding it’s a lot more complicated than we thought it was three weeks ago. And at the same note, we’ve got to come up with creative and thoughtful processes to make this happen.”