Spring floods, hot summers and warmer winters have been wake-up calls as global warming raises the risks for everything from ice fishing to growing seasons.
Think of a Minnesota with almost no ice fishing. A Missouri that is as hot and dry as Texas. River and lake communities where catastrophic flooding happens almost every year, rather than every few generations.
This, scientists warn, is the future of the Midwest if emissions continue at a high rate, and it threatens the very core of the region’s identity.
With extreme heat waves and flooding increasingly making that future feel more real, city leaders have started looking for ways to adapt.
This may be the moment that the resilience and problem-solving nature of many Midwesterners can shine, says Ashlynn Stillwell, an engineering professor at the University of Illinois whose research focuses on the intersection of water and energy policy.
“We Midwesterners are more doers than talkers, and so protesting and talking about something is honestly annoying compared to doing something about it,” she said.
In “Unfamiliar Ground,” a joint project organized by InsideClimate News, reporters across the Midwest are exploring what communities are doing to respond to climate change, with stories from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Missouri, and this one from Minnesota.
“It is our job as elected leaders to be honest with people,” said Kim Norton, mayor of Rochester, Minnesota. “The way we live and the way we manage resources is going to need to change.”
From her office window, Norton has a clear view of how close the Zumbro River is to overflowing downtown flood walls. The city has an enviable level of flood protection, installed after the devastating flood of 1978, but the walls were just barely enough to handle high waters last year.
Torrential rains are happening more often in the city, part of a pattern seen across the Midwest. The government’s National Climate Assessment issued last year described how heavy rain events are increasingly causing disruption to transportation and damage to farms, property and infrastructure across the region, and it warned that that will continue to worsen in a warming world.