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U.N. Regional Climate Change Forecast For Midwest Shows Greater Risk For Extreme Flooding

Menomonee River at Hart Park
Chuck Quirmbach
The Menomonee River at Hart Park in Wauwatosa was up Monday night, following several days of rain.

The latest United Nations report on climate change, for the first time, includes findings and predictions by region. That's caught the eye of University of Wisconsin-Madison health and environment professor Jonathan Patz.

Patz tells WUWM that for the Upper Midwest, or central North America, "they report with high confidence, extreme flooding. So, very heavy rainfall because remember climate change is not just warming, warmer air holds more moisture. So when it rains, it can really rain hard."

Patz worked on some of the previous reports by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. He now directs the UW's Global Health Institute.

Lake Effect's extended conversation with Jonathan Patz.

Patz draws on his public health background to add: "Not only do floods contaminate water, and we've shown an increase in childhood visits to the doctor because of gastrointestinal illness following heavy rainfall events — we've shown that in central Wisconsin."

He continues, "We've also studied the effect of heavy rainfall and runoff for urban areas. For example, Chicago, we looked at combined sewage overflow events (rain overwhelming sewage treatment systems, resulting in the release of partly or untreated treated sewage intro surface waters) that happened because of heavy runoff, and our modeling showed a doubling of that risk due to heavy rainfall events that are projected for the region."

Patz also warns of heavy downpours flooding basements — leaving moisture and mold. "And we see terrible problems with asthma and respiratory issues after floods," he adds.

Federal policies addressing climate change can make a difference, Patz says. He says an infrastructure bill now in Congress would help the growth of renewable energy that can reduce heat-producing emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil, coal and natural gas.

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