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Iowa scientists warn about extreme heat, more severe weather in coming decades

More than 200 Iowa scientists endorsed the ninth annual Iowa Climate Statement, which was...
More than 200 Iowa scientists endorsed the ninth annual Iowa Climate Statement, which was released on Sept. 18, 2019. (Mary Green/KCRG)(KCRG)
Published: Sep. 18, 2019 at 10:50 PM CDT
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Among its emergency operations plans, the Johnson County Emergency Management Agency keeps a contingency plan for “excessive heat emergencies.”

“During the heat of the day, when people are most at risk, we want to be able to get them to cooling shelters or somewhere to cool off so that we’re not having a number of increases in illnesses and possibly deaths,” Dave Wilson, the county's Emergency Management Director, said.

The plan was developed in 2012, around when Wilson said the heat started to become a much bigger problem in Johnson County. Now, Iowa scientists are saying that severe weather plan and others will be put into action more frequently in coming years.

"Adaptations to increasing heat waves will require expanded disaster preparedness on the part of communities and our state,” Jerry Schnoor, co-director for the Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa, said.

The center released a report Wednesday endorsed by 216 scientists and researchers from 38 Iowa colleges and universities, which said that, by 2050, the number of days in which Iowa experiences 90-degree temperatures will nearly triple what it recently was, jumping from 23 days to 67. The report also said by that year, the average daily high temperature for the hottest five-day stretch each year will be 98 degrees, an increase from the recent average of 92.

"We're going to have to adapt,” Schnoor said. “Climate change is already here, and it's going to get much worse."

The scientists said Americans will need to cut their fossil fuel emissions and significantly change infrastructure in order to mitigate these trends.

"That means more solar panels on homes. That means more big solar farms. That means more wind energy. That means more energy efficiency,” Schnoor said.

The scientists said if this doesn't happen, it won't just lead to dangerous heat. It'll also cause more flooding, severe weather, rainstorms, and, under certain conditions, drought.

"It's our hope that we can lessen these impacts and this will not be our future,” Schnoor said. “There's still time, but not much time."

For the time being, emergency managers like Wilson are getting ready.

"These type of weather extreme events are becoming more and more frequent," Wilson said. "We all have to be prepared for that."

The researchers said that making a lot of these changes could be expensive, so they look for what they call "win-wins." For example, by installing more solar panels, not only would it help reduce emissions, but also provide jobs to build up that infrastructure.