18 Local Climate Change

Why Should You Care About Climate Change?

Popular news stories often focus on climate change at a global level–think rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere or polar bears and melting sea ice. At a national level, wildfires in California or hurricanes on the Atlantic coast are well-covered in the news.

However, climate change is happening now in Iowa and it affects all of us. 

According to Iowa scientists, “Time is running out” (Lynch, 2019). Click here to read about the current state of climate change in Iowa.

Additionally, climate change is a key issue in the 2020 presidential election. Since the Iowa caucus plays a key role in national politics, several candidates have visited Iowa town and farms to learn more about the local impacts of climate change. Click here to read more about “How Climate Change in Iowa is Changing U.S. Politics”.

Climate Change in Iowa

The main topics for climate change in Iowa are:

  • Hotter temperatures
  • More precipitation and drought
  • Impact on agriculture
  • Habitat changes

Hotter Temperatures

Iowa Climate Statement 2019: “Dangerous Heat Events Will Be More Frequent and Severe”

Based on peer-reviewed data, researchers and educators from colleges and universities across Iowa release the Iowa Climate Statement each year. According to the Iowa Climate Statement 2019, “Dangerous Heat Events Will Be More Frequent and Severe“. Dangerously high temperatures negatively affect the health and safety of the humans and animals who live in Iowa.

Below are three graphics which illustrate the data in the Iowa Climate Statement. Notice that the historical data and projections for temperature are measured in 30 year periods. is measured over a 30-year period, so these models indicate .

The map, below, shows the projected number of days above 90°F in Des Moines, Iowa. The historical number is 23 days, but it could be between 57 and 68 days by 2050 depending on greenhouse gas emissions.

The image, below, shows trends in Iowa heat waves. Historically, the high temperature averaged at 92°F during heat waves. By mid-century, the average will be 98°F and sometimes reach as high as 105°F.

The image, below, shows the number of days in Iowa that are 90°F or hotter. Historical data measured 23 days; by 2050, it is projected to nearly triple to 67 days.

More Precipitation and Drought

According to the Iowa Climate Statement 2012, “In a warmer climate, wet years get wetter and dry years get dryer” (UI Center for Global and Environmental Research, 2012, p. 1).

As a result of climate change and changing weather patterns, Iowa will have:

  • An increase in extreme precipitation leading to more floods
  • More periods of drought
Iowa Flooding” by Joe Germuska is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The University of Iowa

At the University of Iowa, we are still rebuilding campus from the damages sustained during the flood of 2008. The extreme flooding was the result of high precipitation and already-saturated ground; the ground could not absorb anymore water so the Coralville Reservoir and Iowa River overflowed and flooded Iowa’s campus. The water reached more than 20 university buildings resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

Click here to see photos of campus during the flood of 2008.

Since 2008, changes have been made:

  • The Iowa Flood Center was established to monitor flood risk and to inform the public.
  • Some buildings, like Hancher Auditorium and the Voxman Music Building, had to be completely rebuilt and moved to safer locations. The Stanley Museum of Art is the last campus building to be rebuilt; it will reopen in 2022, more than a decade later.
  • Dubuque Street by Mayflower Residence Hall, a main thoroughfare into Iowa City, was raised after being closed for a month during the flood of 2008. Construction finished in 2018.
The old Hancher Auditorium by Phil Roeder is licensed under CC BY 2.0
The new Hancher Auditorium by Steve Shupe is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Still, flood events are somewhat unpredictable and likely to increase due to the effects of climate change. This is a risk that the University of Iowa and the surrounding communities will have to navigate in the future.

Impact on Agriculture

Agriculture and related industries put billions of dollars in Iowa’s economy each year. Due to climate change and changing weather patterns, several aspects of agriculture will be affected.

  • Higher temperatures may lead to longer growing seasons and higher crop yield. However, this can also lead to an increase in agricultural pests.
  • Unpredictable weather patterns like temperature and precipitation affect when, and if, farmers are able to harvest their crops.
  • There are about 20 million pigs in Iowa (compared to about 3 million humans). These pigs and other livestock are at increased risk for sickness and death due to dangerously high temperatures.
  • Increased precipitation and flooding leads to increased soil erosion and poor soil health.
Farm in Sherrill, Iowa” is licensed under CC0 1.0

Habitat changes

As temperatures rise and typical weather and climate patterns change, Iowa’s habitat is changing too. Hardiness zones are one way of defining which plants will grow best in an area based on the average temperature. As seen in the maps, below, the range of plants in Iowa is shifting north over time.

  • In 1990, Iowa was evenly split between zones 4 (blue) and 5 (dark green).
  • In 2015, Iowa is entirely in zone 5 (dark green) with zone 6 (light green) starting to appear at the southern edge of the state.
Hardiness Zones Map” by Arbor Day Foundation is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.5

When the plants and trees in Iowa change, it affects all living things–humans, animals, and insects–which must adapt to survive. Notice that the date range (1990-2015) is 25 years. Therefore, the change in indicates in Iowa. As climate change continues, Iowa’s landscape will change in rapid and unpredictable ways.

K-6 Standards

3-LS4-4. Make a claim about the merit of a solution to a problem caused when the environment
changes and the types of plants and animals that live there may change.


What Can You Do About Climate Change?

People are sometimes unmotivated to address climate change because it seems like a problem for the future. Or, they may be daunted by the enormity of the problem and unsure of where to begin. The following article discusses “Why People Aren’t Motivated to Address Climate Change.” Click here to read the article.

If we want to protect Earth and life as we know it, it is critical to take action on climate change immediately. Here are some ways you can get started:

  • Calculate your carbon footprint and then take steps to reduce your personal environmental impact.
  • Educate yourself about current climate issues–the helpful links chapter in this book has multiple sources about climate science.
  • Talk to your politicians about why we need to take action on climate change.

K-6 Standards

K-ESS3-3. Communicate solutions that will reduce the impact of humans on the land, water, air,
and/or other living things in the local environment.

5-ESS3-1. Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science
ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment.



Davy, L.A. (n.d.) Innovations abound at Iowa flood center. Retrieved from https://uiowa.edu/stories/innovations-abound-iowa-flood-center

Lynch, J.Q. (2019). Iowa scientists, educators warn time running out to combat climate change. The Gazette. Retrieved from https://www.thegazette.com/subject/news/government/iowa-scientists-educators-warn-time-running-out-to-combat-climate-change-20190918

Markman, A. (2018). Why people aren’t motivated to address climate change. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2018/10/why-people-arent-motivated-to-address-climate-change

The Nature Conservancy. (n.d.) Calculate your carbon footprint. Retrieved from https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/consider-your-impact/carbon-calculator/

UI Center for Global and Environmental Research. (2012). Iowa climate statement. Retrieved from https://cgrer.uiowa.edu/sites/cgrer.uiowa.edu/files/pdf_files/IOWA%20CLIMATE%20STATEMENT%20-%20THE%20DROUGHT%20OF%202012_November_19_2012%20FINAL.pdf

UI Center for Global and Environmental Research. (2019). Iowa climate statement. Retrieved from https://iowaenvironmentalfocus.org/iowa-climate-statement/

UI Center for Global and Environmental Research. (2019). [Graphics]. Iowa heat wave graphics. Retrieved from https://iowaenvironmentalfocus.files.wordpress.com/2019/ 09/iowa-heat-wave-posters.pdf

Worland, J. (2019). How climate change in Iowa is changing U.S. politics. Time. Retrieved from https://time.com/5669023/iowa-farmers-climate-policy/