The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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August 13, 2012

Record heat, drought point to longer-term climate issues

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OTTUMWA, Iowa —

The Midwest is particularly vulnerable to large swings, according to federal scientists, in part because it is farther from the oceans, which help to moderate temperatures.

"There is a high degree of confidence in projections that future temperature increases will be greatest in the Arctic and in the middle of continents," according to the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

Maybe the broadest and most easily measured casualty of the weather has been the nation's corn crop, one of its largest. With the losses, corn futures last week rose to all-time highs.

But the extreme weather has also aroused unusual challenges.

The Mississippi River has fallen so low that the American Queen steamboat, which had been on its way from Louisville to Vicksburg, Miss., had to stop this month in Memphis, according to wire reports. That left 240 passengers to finish the trip by bus.

In Plaquemines Parish, La., at the mouth of the Mississippi, government officials are preparing to have fresh water brought in on barges, something they haven't had to do since 1988, during a historic drought, said Guy Laigast, director of the parish's emergency preparedness. The problem is the growing salinity of the Mississippi as it runs by Plaquemines. Some saltwater seeps in from the gulf regularly when the river is low. But this year, the saltwater has seeped about 88 miles up the river, rendering it unusable for some towns.

In Kansas, along Big Creek, which is running dry, the drought has put communities at odds with one another. Upstream, Hays is keeping its wastewater to water a golf course, a park and a soccer complex. This has angered downstream neighbors, who say public wells are running low and there's no water for their cattle.

"Everyone out here is hurting. There is no two ways around it," said Doug Langhofer, water superintendent in Russell, Kan., one of the communities downstream.

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