Amid the tornado carnage last week — hundreds of homes in the area and the state were damaged or destroyed, and several deaths were reported — another weather event went largely unnoticed.
The Spring River at the Waco gauge in northern Jasper County climbed to 27.97 feet on Friday morning. That makes it the eighth highest crest on record, according to the National Weather Service. Records there go back nearly 100 years. That is significant because it means that five of the 10 worst floods on that river have been in the last 12 years.
For 30 years, this newspaper has been interviewing climate scientists and meteorologists about the severe weather that seems to be a fact of life here and they have consistently told us two things:
❯ It is impossible to link a specific storm, or a single weather event, no matter how severe or how much an outlier, including the Joplin tornado of 2011, to climate change. Severe weather has always been a fact of life in the Midwest.
❯ Yet, with climate change, the conditions are in play for the Midwest to get hammered by more severe weather. Whatever weather we get, they tell us, we will get in spades.
And we have.
In other words, we’re not in Kansas anymore.
What happened on the Spring River last week mirrors what has been happening elsewhere in the Ozarks, where record-level flooding is becoming more common, and that flooding becoming more severe.
Four of the five worst floods on record, and six of the worst 10 floods on the Illinois River in Northwest Arkansas have been in the last decade. Records there go back more than 60 years. The three worst floods on record for the James River at Galena, Missouri, and four of the worst five, were in the last decade. Records there also go back nearly a century. The story is the same for other Ozark rivers, including the Gasconade, where four of the five worst floods and five of the worst six floods have been in the last decade.
The Gasconade River at Jerome, where records go back to 1897, topped 30 feet only once in 110 years; since then it has topped 30 feet five times, including 35 feet in 2017. In the first 80 years after records started being kept for the James River at Galena, the river topped 30 feet only once, in 1993. In the last decade it has topped 30 feet four times, and pushed up to 36 feet twice.
As for tornadoes, this is the second time in 16 years that Carl Junction has taken a direct hit from a large tornado. It was just a few weeks ago that a storm system spun off 26 tornadoes, including those that hit Wheaton, Miller and other communities. The list of area communities that have been hit in the last 15 or 20 years is getting long.
“Global warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening,” said James Hansen, the NASA scientist who helped bring climate change to the public’s attention in 1988.
And it’s happening here.
In the three decades since, because of denials and what Hansen calls “dithering,” we have done little to change this spiral into disaster, and left our children a more dangerous world.
— The Joplin Globe