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Flood damage may be upwards of $12.5b in losses

Iowa Farm Bureau Federation IFBF flood damage Nic Shearer.jpg
Nic Shearer of Fremont County, Iowa, stands on a levee that’s holding back water from the flooding Missouri and Nishnabotna rivers. The fields Shearer farms with his family, as well as the family’s grain bins, are underwater behind him.
The outlook does not appear farmers are out of the “water” yet as high flooding risks continue through May.

The total damage and economic loss caused by record-breaking flooding in the Midwestern U.S. this spring will total $12.5 billion, based on an analysis of damages already inflicted and those expected by additional flooding, as well as the lingering health effects resulting from flooding and the disease caused by standing water according to AccuWeather.

The flooding erupted in the wake of a historic bomb cyclone and the economic damage rivals that of some of the worst hurricanes to hit the U.S. The $12.5 billion estimate for flooding this spring would compare to Hurricanes Matthew (2016) and Irene (2011).

Dr. Joel N. Myers, AccuWeather founder and chief executive officer, noted. “These losses occurred in farm states that contribute significantly to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. With the ground already saturated and more flooding rain expected, our independent forecast shows that the aggregate economic toll of these floods will be far greater than official estimates initially suggest. Official estimates of damage do not fully take into account uninsured losses as well as lost work hours and damage sustained by contaminated water, in addition to a range of other direct and indirect impacts.”

AccuWeather’s $12.5 billion estimate includes damage to homes, their contents, and cars, business and farm losses – including crops and livestock – contamination of drinking water wells, infrastructure damage, auxiliary business losses and the long-term impact from the flooding, which will likely contribute to, and exacerbate, health issues.

Devastating flooding in Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Missouri this spring already has led to billion-dollar damage estimates in those states, according to officials. 

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, who said the flooding aftermath was “the most extensive damage our state has ever experienced,” initially requested $1.3 billion in federal disaster funding (though that number ultimately may be lower). Nebraska’s Offutt Air Force Base suffered an estimated $1 billion in damages and officials in Wisconsin estimate the damage in their state at $1.9 billion.

Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) economists project Iowa may see upwards of $2 billion in damages from the recent flooding. Dr. Sam Funk, IFBF’s senior economist, says the damages will continue to culminate long after the floodwaters recede.

“In Fremont County, for example, where we have seen more than a quarter of all jobs depend on agriculture and 19% come from crop farming alone, there will be a snowball effect from this early spring flooding. Long after waters recede, the sand and debris left behind must be cleaned up before planting. But, the equipment to remove that debris is not always available quickly and fields may not be ready in time for farmers to get a crop in at all this year,” said Funk.

In Iowa, grain stored in bins, ready for market, was hit by floodwaters. “That grain will mostly register as a total loss, because adulterated crops can’t be used for feed and can’t be sent to grain markets because of contamination. Those impacts, combined with the expected Mississippi flooding, may push a big reaction in the corn market, initially, which already has several challenges this year. Higher planting intentions for corn may adjust downward due to wet weather. And, soybean stocks were high following another strong production year, but that may keep prices from moving as high as they might have otherwise with immediate flooding losses,” Funk said.

Reports indicate that more than 1 million acres of cropland had been flooded by March 30. “The markets will be sorting out planted acres through the next few months, and we know farmers are keeping an eye on it all,” said Funk. 

“There are infrastructure problems compounding current on-farm struggles. There have been multiple breaches in levees with roads and bridges rendered unsafe or impassable, which makes it hard to move the equipment in and the product out. The areas impacted are more extensive than the 2011 Missouri River flooding, where more than 127,000 crop acres were lost. This flood isn’t just bigger; the effects will last longer,” Funk continued.

Unfortunately, the outlook does not appear farmers are out of the “water” yet. Nearly two-thirds of the Lower 48 states face an elevated risk for flooding through May, with the potential for major or moderate flooding in 25 states, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s U.S. Spring Outlook issued March 21.

Additional spring rain and melting snow will prolong and expand flooding, especially in the central and southern U.S. The areas of greatest risk for moderate to major flooding include the upper, middle, and lower Mississippi River basins including the mainstem Mississippi River, Red River of the North, the Great Lakes, eastern Missouri River, lower Ohio, lower Cumberland, and Tennessee River basins.

“The extensive flooding we’ve seen in the past two weeks will continue through May and become more dire and may be exacerbated in the coming weeks as the water flows downstream,” said Ed Clark, director of NOAA’s National Water Center in Tuscaloosa, Ala. “This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season, with more than 200 million people at risk for flooding in their communities.”

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