Flooding in the Midwest Shows There's No Refuge From Climate Change

While projections say areas of the U.S. Midwest around the Great Lakes will become more hospitable as the climate changes, stormwater and flooding is still a challenge in a surprising number of locations.

2 minute read

September 16, 2021, 7:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


An illustration of rain clouds gathered over the U.S. Midwest, with the city of Detroit called out on the map.

max.ku / Shutterstock

Ben Adler writes on the surprising impacts of climate change and extreme weather in the U.S. Midwest—where the summer has been marked by repeated flooding events in cities like Detroit.

The Detroit suburb of Gross Pointe Park is where Adler starts this story, in fact, at the home of Colin Moulder-McComb, which has been flooding regularly enough to drive Moulder-McComb from the area—a perhaps unexpected manifestation of a climate refugee.

For Moulder-McComb, the flooding that once seemed like an anomaly is now a regularity, writes Adler:

While the climate in the Midwest has always been relatively wet, the frequency and severity of downpours has gotten notably worse in recent decades, due to climate change. Warmer temperatures have led to more evaporation and precipitation. Between 1951 and 2017, the Great Lakes region’s average temperature increased 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit, its annual rainfall has risen 17% and it has 35% more heavy rain events, according to a study by Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments, a collaboration between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

And the city of Detroit is suffering terrible effects from the change in the weather: "Between 2012 and 2020, 43 percent of homes in Detroit suffered flooding from rain, according to a recent survey of residents. Conditions like deteriorating roofs and cracks in basement walls made flooding more likely, and African American neighborhoods were more likely to flood than white areas."

Both Adler and Moulder-McComb acknowledge that it's hard to escape the effects of climate change anywhere in the country. But for a region with several advantages in the climate of the world to come—an abundance of fresh water being one of those advantages—it's frightening to see a lack refuge.

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