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A Wetter Midwest Challenges Planning and Infrastructure

FiveThirtyEight explores how planners in the Midwest are trying to get ahead of an intensifying climate.
June 1, 2018, 2pm PDT | Elana Eden
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Keeper of the Plains

Across the Midwest, weather patterns are changing fast. Storms are starting earlier and hitting harder, and floods are coming faster and with less warning. And what used to be considered unusually intense rainfall—a "mega-rain" event—is quickly threatening to become the new normal. FiveThirtyEight's Ella Koeze delves into the fundamental challenges this shift poses to existing infrastructure, emergency management, and city planning efforts throughout the Midwestern states.

For one, the need to invest in more robust and durable infrastructure is becoming increasingly clear: "While the design standard has been to build roads, buildings and other infrastructure in a way that can withstand a hundred-year storm, some engineers are considering whether it's time to build for a 500-year storm, with the expectation that soon it might no longer be such a remote possibility," Koeze writes.

But before cities can start planning how to overhaul their major infrastructure, they need data they've never had before. "The precipitation estimates that city planners have relied on in making preparations for flooding are based on historical weather trends, not predictions of future trends," Koeze explains. "The estimates do not take into account how climate change might influence precipitation in the future." Until new prediction models are developed, planners are doing what they can—focusing on bolstering emergency systems. 

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Published on Thursday, May 17, 2018 in FiveThirtyEight
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