Analyzing Champaign-Urbana’s resiliency

If we allow our nation to continue pollute the Earth at alarming rates without environmental remediation, climate change and its associated storms and inclement weather are inevitable. In the absolute worst case scenario of warming, how prepared is Champaign-Urbana for such a drastic change in weather?

Climate change could create a six foot rise in sea level which will effectively inundate most of Miami, Florida, literally rising up from the ground due to the porous limestone bed which acts like a strainer by leaking seawater into Florida (1). The overburdened and drought-stricken Colorado River continues to be unstable with frequent droughts and ever-shrinking reservoirs (2). The power source for the American Southwest and will only be less predictable as population grows and climate becomes more erratic . Glacier National Park may soon lose its namesake–glaciers–if climate change continues to worsen (3). Warmer oceans will cause more frequent and intense hurricanes as well. 

But Illinois is pretty safe, right? Living in Urbana I don’t fear the possibility of a rouge tornado or a heatwave, but what will the Illini of 2030 think? 2050? Well, on the eastern border of “Tornado Alley,” Champaign-Urbana is anything but bulletproof. Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Sciences in Boulder, Colorado told Scientific American a warmer Gulf of Mexico and more air moisture could lead to more intense, less predictable tornadoes throughout the Midwest. He also predicts more severe heat waves, wildfires, floods, and drought, all of which can directly affect the C-U region (4).

So now what? Well, the good news is that we’re prepared. The National Association of Homebuilders estimates that about 80% of the homes in the Midwestern region have basements, far higher than the 0.5% of homes that have basements in the southern plains, which  include states  like Oklahoma and Kansas (5). As the Gulf of Mexico warms and creates more intense storms, and cities like Tulsa and Oklahoma City experience significant population growth, these places and their residents will become quite vulnerable to climatic risks in the not-so-distant future.

Compared to other American cities, C-U homes and buildings are well protected against tornadoes. Aside from the trailer parks in the north, which highlight the stark contrast in emergency resilience based on socioeconomic class, much of C-U would be prepared in the likely event of a tornado. However, simply having a basement or storm shelter does not equate to complete preparedness even in the event of a particularly destructive tornado.

But possibly more pressing than tornadoes is the possibility of a future drought or heat wave. The EPA estimates that the Illinois will be more akin to that of Oklahoma or Texas within our lifetimes without significant environmental remediation (6). This means more than just a longer summer; it can mean less rainfall or more intense, torrential rainfall which may overburden the sewerage and filtration infrastructure, more intense heat which may be disastrous for the productive agricultural lands of Illinois, and lower air quality caused by a longer pollen season. Sure, none of these may be as scary at face value as a tornado, but over time, the proliferation of these weather patterns will be disastrous.

As we prepare and build accordingly for the scary storms like tornadoes here or hurricanes on the coast, it is easy to forget the significance of small changes in weather. However, the unpredictability of heat waves and droughts can be the most damaging and the effects the hardest to mitigate; the only surefire way to prevent or reduce their negative impacts is to be proactive and strive to cut emissions and protect the environment.

resiliency1

resiliency2

Source: EPA

  1. https://www.wired.com/2015/02/rising-sea-levels-already-making-miamis-floods-worse/
  2. https://www.doi.gov/water/owdi.cr.drought/en/
  3. https://www.usgs.gov/centers/norock/science/retreat-glaciers-glacier-national-park?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects
  4. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/kevin-trenberth-on-climate-change-and-tornadoes/
  5. http://eyeonhousing.org/2014/10/what-foundations-are-built-across-the-nation/
  6. https://www.epa.gov/climate-impacts/climate-impacts-midwest

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