Following 2008’s Midwest Floods, New Report to Link Global Warming to Projected Increase in Extreme Weather

Environment Illinois Research and Education Center

Chicago, IL—On the heels of a summer that saw many parts of the country hit by record heat, severe storms and damaging floods, a new Environment Illinois report documents how global warming could lead to extreme weather events becoming even more common in the future. The report also highlighted recent extreme weather events that have impacted Illinois, such as 2008’s Midwest Floods. That flood cost Illinois farmers $1.3 billion in lost agriculture production and claimed 24 lives across the Midwest.

 “2008’s Midwest Flood was just one example of how extreme weather causes extremely big problems for Illinois’s economy and our public safety,” said Christine Del Priore, Field Associate for Environment Illinois. “Given that unchecked global warming will likely fuel even more severe weather, we need to start cutting global warming pollution now.”

The new report, entitled Global Warming and Extreme Weather: The Science, the Forecast, and the Impacts on America, details the latest science linking global warming to hurricanes, coastal storms, extreme precipitation, wildfires and heat waves. The report also summarizes some of the most damaging recent weather events nationally, including 2008’s Hurricane Ike and Midwest Flooding.

The report was released as Congress considers several bills to let polluters off the hook by blocking global warming pollution standards for some of the largest pollution sources. Environment Illinois urged U.S. Senators Durbin and Burris to hold polluters accountable, and to reject Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s Dirty Air Act (S. 3072), which would block the Clean Air Act’s ability to clean up global warming pollution from coal-fired power plants, oil refineries and other stationary sources.

Coal-fired power plants are the largest single source of global warming pollution. “Letting polluters off the hook after the weather we’ve seen in 2010 would be like giving a thief the key to your house after he just stole your car,” said Del Priore. “The threat of increased extreme weather from global warming is just one of many reasons why we need to hold polluters accountable for their pollution, not let them off the hook by passing Sen. Rockefeller’s Dirty Air Act.”

Environment Illinois was joined by Brandon Leavitt, Solar Services, Inc. and Courtney Eccles, Assistant Director of Outreach and Policy, Protestants for the Common Good in releasing the new report.

“Reducing global warming pollution is a matter of great concern for people of faith. Not only are we are called to be good stewards of the water, land, and natural resources we have been blessed with, but we are also called to protect the most vulnerable in our society – individuals who live in low income communities, our elderly, our children – those who often contribute least to the problem, but stand to be impacted the most” said Courtney Eccles.  

Among other extreme weather events, the report highlighted the 2008 Midwest Flood.  A flood of such an immense proportion is only predicted to occur every 500 years. Yet the Midwest witnessed rainfall exceeding 12 inches above normal in some areas and damaging flash floods for the second time in only 15 years.  These torrential downpours led to led to an estimated loss of $1.3 billion in agriculture production.  Prices of everything from corn to cattle rose at least 20% that summer as a result of the 2008 Midwest Floods.

Del Priore noted that while no single event can be entirely attributed to global warming, a warming climate is increasing the odds of more extreme weather. Each weather event arises from a combination of short-term weather patterns and long-term climatic trends, and global warming “loads the dice” for severe weather.

“Today’s report shows how the 2008 Midwest Floods was just a taste of what’s to come for Illinois unless we tackle global warming,” said Del Priore.

Key findings from the Environment Illinois report include:

  •  Scientists project that global warming may bring fewer—but more intense—hurricanes worldwide, and that the number of intense Category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the Atlantic may nearly double over the course of the next century. Estimated damages from the seven most costly hurricanes to strike the U.S. since 2005 exceed $200 billion.
  • Global warming is projected to bring more frequent heavy downpours and snowfalls, since warmer air can hold more water vapor. Already, the number of heavy precipitation events in the United States increased 24 percent between 1948 and 2006, helping to make flooding the most common weather-related disaster in the U.S. Recent years have seen a string of incredibly destructive floods and snowstorms, including the 2008 Midwest flood that caused $8 to $10 billion in damage and 2010’s “Snowmaggedon” that cost the East Coast more than $2 billion.
  • Heat waves are projected to be more frequent, more intense, and last longer due to global warming. Heat waves are among the most lethal of extreme weather events, as illustrated by a 2006 heat wave that affected the entire contiguous United States and was blamed for at least 147 deaths in California and another 140 deaths in New York City.


Read the full report.