- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 13, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Warmer temperatures are contributing to stronger tornadoes, heavier rainfall, persistent droughts and the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, members of a White House-appointed task force on climate change said in Des Moines on Tuesday.

President Barack Obama created the State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience last year to advise the administration on how the federal government can help communities prepare and respond to natural disasters. The group is made up of eight governors, 14 mayors, including Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie, two county officials and two tribal leaders. It is to deliver its final recommendations to the president by November.

On Tuesday, experts from Iowa universities, public utilities and businesses discussed with the task force climate-related problems local communities deal with and ways they are adapting.

“We are hopeful a lot of the information we come up with today we will pass on to the task force to let them know what Iowa is thinking and what is happening in the heartland,” Cownie said. “A lot of the focus sometimes around country looks at what’s happening in coastal regions. I want to tell you it is here.”

He pointed to an EF2 tornado that struck Panora and the Lake Panorama area on Sunday destroying at least eight condominiums and damaging about a dozen other homes.

In 2012 alone, weather disasters in the United States, including Hurricane Sandy, cost more than $110 billion, according to a White House statement.

“Every century has its public health challenge,” said Dr. Yogesh Shah, assistant dean of global health at Des Moines University. “Climate change is our century’s challenge.”

Shah said warmer temperatures contribute to an increase in diseases carried by mosquitoes, including malaria and West Nile Virus, which was rare in the United States before 1999 but rose to more than 5,600 cases in 2012.

Iowa’s increasing flood occurrences illustrate the need for improved planning, said Jerry Schnoor, an engineering professor at the University of Iowa.

“We need to change infrastructure against flooding by raising roads, strengthening bridges, improving transportation, raising substations and transformers and we need to harden buildings,” he said.

Task force recommendations also will include activities and programs that encourage individuals to conserve energy and reduce waste.

“This initiative is really about finding best practices and sharing them,” said Charles Earnest, a consultant from Seattle, Washington, who traveled to Des Moines for the task force meeting at the invitation of Cownie. Earnest works with Green America, a nonprofit organization that has held events in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Washington and Chicago encouraging lifestyle changes that reduces carbon pollution.

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