Ten people are dead, tens of thousands of people have already evacuated, millions of dollars in damages are waiting to be assessed, crops prices are rising on news of the decimated fields, disaster areas have been declared throughout Iowa and Indiana, and folks are talking about the record flood as one for the history books: This kind of thing happens once only every half century or so.
And it could get worse still.
"As the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers threatened to flood downtown in Iowa's capital city," USA Today reported from Des Moines, "local and state officials cast the rising waters in epic terms, saying the next 24 hours could be one of the most important periods in the city's 157-year history."
The floods were only the beginning, however, as dozens of tornadoes touched down across Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Minnesota. Four boy scouts were killed in Iowa, and two other people killed in Kansas. The 2008 tornado season is already the deadliest in a decade, and could shape up as the deadliest on record. The following chart does not include tallies for the most recent tornadoes:
As flood waters swell rivers in Iowa, Indiana, Nebraska and Wisconsin, they will feed into the Mississippi River, threatening waves of damage for hundreds of miles downstream.
This map shows rivers in black that have exceeded their flood stage. Blue dots indicate rivers at 95% of flood stage or greater.
One of the most lasting effects of the flood could be in seen in U.S. grocery aisles and relief tents worldwide. Already the Department of Agriculture expects U.S. crop output will drop 3%, and that sent the price of corn on commodities market to a new record level of $7. Prices for corn and other grains were already near record-high levels because of bad weather elsewhere, including Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, which decimated one of the world's bigger rice crops, and because of increasing demand for corn-based ethanol, an alternative fuel heavily subsidized by Congress.
The last flood of this scale, according to USA Today, was 15 years ago, when 50 people died, 55,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. Some of the rivers that reached record-high levels then are cresting at higher levels now, and by big margins. The Iowa River rose to 12% greater heights than in 1993.
More rain is expected over the next several days, and many rivers aren't expected to crest until Saturday. Here's a look at the expected rainfall for today:
This could be a harbinger of things to come. Some scientists have warned that global warming will create conditions that make violent tornadoes more frequent. There is greater consensus that global warming will, at the least, produce more extreme weather events, such as flooding.
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