Federal Coordinating Lead Author:
Chris Swanston, USDA Forest Service
Chapter Lead:
Jim Angel, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois
Chapter Authors:
Barbara Mayes Boustead, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Kathryn C. Conlon, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Kimberly R. Hall, The Nature Conservancy
Jenna L. Jorns, University of Michigan, Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments
Kenneth E. Kunkel, North Carolina State University
Maria Carmen Lemos, University of Michigan, Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments
Brent Lofgren, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Todd A. Ontl, USDA Forest Service, Northern Forests Climate Hub
John Posey, East West Gateway Council of Governments
Kim Stone, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (through January 2018)
Eugene Takle, Iowa State University
Dennis Todey, USDA, Midwest Climate Hub
Review Editor:
Thomas Bonnot, University of Missouri
Technical Contributors:
Katherine Browne, University of Michigan
Melonee Montano, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission
Hannah Panci, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission
Jason Vargo, University of Wisconsin
Madeline R. Magee, University of Wisconsin-Madison
USGCRP Coordinators:
Kristin Lewis, Senior Scientist
Allyza Lustig, Program Coordinator
Katie Reeves, Engagement and Communications Lead


The Midwest is home to more than 60 million people, and its active economy represents 18% of the U.S. gross domestic product.1 In this report, the Midwest covers Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The region is probably best known for agricultural production. Trends toward warmer, wetter, and more humid conditions provide challenges for field work, increase disease and pest pressure, and reduce yields to an extent that these challenges can be only partially overcome by technology.35 The Midwest contains large tracts of federal, state, and private forests and preserves that provide significant economic and ecological benefits to the region. However, as a changing climate results in shifting precipitation patterns, altered disturbance regimes, and increased frequency of late-growing-season moisture stress, the effects of existing stressors such as invasive species, insect pests, and plant disease are amplified.36 Natural resource managers are taking steps to address these issues by increasing the diversity of trees and introducing species suitable for a changing climate.8

The Midwest also has vibrant manufacturing, retail, recreation/tourism, and service sectors. The region’s highways, railroads, airports, and navigable rivers are major modes for commercial activity. Increasing precipitation, especially heavy rain events, has increased the overall flood risk, causing disruption to transportation and damage to property and infrastructure (e.g., Winters et al. 201537). Increasing use of green infrastructure (including nature-based approaches, such as wetland restoration, and innovations like permeable pavements) and better engineering practices are beginning to address these issues (e.g., City of Chicago 201538).

Tourism and outdoor recreation are major economic activities that may be affected by climate change, particularly in coastal towns that are at risk from algal bloom impacts and in areas that host winter sports that are especially vulnerable to warming winters. For example, ice fishing was limited due to mild temperatures in the winters of 2015–2016 and 2016–2017, and the American Birkebeiner cross-country ski race in Wisconsin was cancelled due to a lack of snow in February 2017. Portions of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota contain ceded territory of many tribes, and these are used for hunting, fishing, and gathering native plants, all of which play vital roles in maintaining cultural heritage. Projected changes in climate and ecosystems will have strong impacts on these activities.39

The Great Lakes play a central role in the Midwest and provide an abundant freshwater resource for water supplies, industry, shipping, fishing, and recreation, as well as a rich and diverse ecosystem. The same can be said for the upper Mississippi, lower Missouri, Illinois, and Ohio River systems. Episodes of widespread heavy rains in recent years have led to flooding, soil erosion, and water quality issues from nutrient runoff into those systems.10 Land managers are beginning to change some of their practices (such as increasing the use of cover crops) to better manage excess surface water.40

Citizens and stakeholders in the Midwest value their health and the well-being of their communities—all of which are at risk from increased flooding, increased heat, and lower air and water quality under a changing climate.30,31

Energy in the Midwest

The Midwest is a major consumer of coal. In 2015, coal provided 56% of the electricity consumed in the region, and the eight states in the region accounted for 32% of the Nation's coal consumption (in BTUs). Coal’s share of electricity production is declining in the Midwest, following the national trend (Ch. 4: Energy, Figure 4.3). In 2008, coal accounted for more than 70% of electricity consumption in the Midwest. Wind power is a small but growing source of electricity for the region. Iowa leads the Nation in per capita consumption of wind power, with wind providing over 30% of the state’s electrical needs in 2015.41

Renewable energy is expanding in the Midwest. As part of a campus-wide initiative to transition to renewable energy sources, in 2017, Michigan State University established five solar carports that have an estimated annual production of 15,000 megawatt hours, representing about 5% of electricity use on campus (Figure 21.1). In addition to reducing carbon emissions, this investment is expected to save the university $10 million over 25 years.42

Solar Charging Stations

Figure 21.1: Solar carports were recently installed on the Michigan State University campus. Photo credit: David Rothstein


What Is New in NCA4

Two new Key Messages are introduced (Key Messages 3 and 6). Key Message 3 recognizes the important role that ecosystems of the Midwest play in supporting a diverse array of species and providing important benefits such as flood control, crop pollination, and outdoor recreation. Key Message 6 addresses how at-risk communities in the Midwest are becoming more vulnerable to climate change impacts and how they are working to build adaptive capacity. Tribal nations are especially vulnerable because of their reliance on threatened natural resources for their cultural, subsistence, and economic needs. The four remaining Key Messages address improvements in the understanding of risks and responses to climate change since NCA3. Key Message 1 on agriculture provides more specificity about the risk to agriculture by stating that agricultural productivity (the ratio of outputs to inputs) is projected to decline by 2050 to levels of the 1980s (that is, yields may increase but at the cost of substantial increases in inputs). Key Message 2 on forestry illustrates the progress foresters and land managers have made in climate adaptation through their efforts to incorporate climate change risks into management decision-making. Key Message 5 on transportation and infrastructure highlights a growing interest in green infrastructure—the use of plants and open space in storm water management—as an option for adapting to more frequent episodes of extreme precipitation. Finally, Key Message 4 on human health identifies specific health impacts by naming expected changes in magnitude and occurrence of extreme events, exposures, and economic impacts. The message explicitly states public health actions that can be implemented to avoid or reduce the health impacts.

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