A weather-beaten economy
Severe weather in the US interior has wrought economic disaster. But recovery may be quick.
The severe weather that has battered the interior US this year is taking an economic as well as a human toll.Skip to next paragraph
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Damage from recent rains and flooding in the upper Midwest appears likely to reach hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the National Weather Service. Roads and bridges have been washed out, crops damaged, and hundreds of homes and businesses inundated with floodwaters.
This isn't good news for the nation's already-teetering economy. The price of corn, wheat, and soybeans has moved up sharply in recent days, in part due to poor planting conditions in the agricultural heartland. The closure to barge traffic of 200 miles of the Mississippi River this week further will disrupt the distribution of key commodities from grain and coal to steel and fertilizer.
For the hard-hit communities themselves, however, tornadoes or floods need not be an economic disaster, particularly if they wisely use aid and recovery dollars.
Once a community has been hit, it tends to come back stronger three to four years out, says Bradley Ewing, an expert in ecological economics and professor of operations management at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.
Tornadoes have been the deadliest of the weather phenomena that have afflicted the US this year. Even prior to the tragedy of June 11, in which four Boy Scouts died when a twister hit their camp in western Iowa, 2008 was shaping up as the worst year for tornado fatalities in a decade.
But the heavy rain of the last few weeks has perhaps had a greater impact on the regional economy.
Flood damage in central Indiana, for instance, now totals an estimated $126 million, according to a study co-written by Michael Hicks, an economist at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. Ruined public infrastructure – roads, bridges, sewers – accounts for $45 million of this cost. Inundated homes and private businesses account for the rest.
In Illinois and Missouri, the Mississippi River may reach flood levels not seen since 1993, according to the National Weather Service. Barge traffic in this stretch of the Big Muddy may be halted for as long as two weeks.