Flooding: Is it corn’s fault? (5×8 – 6/20/12)

Do Minnesota’s weather woes come from Nebraska, hockey backtracks on its efforts to make the sport safer, the impact of the government worker, buying black, and the lights over Lapland.


While the Twin Cities were baking yesterday, much of the rest of the state was getting flooded by an endless stream of storms that may continue today.

Duluth, a city on a hill, can’t exactly head for higher ground.

This is unbelievable video coming from the city — at East 3rd and North 7th…

And East Hillside…

… and the view on Restormel Street.

… Cascade Park and First Ave West…

The flooding is expected to continue through most of the day today (Reader Ben Chorn is keeping us well up to date on his Twitter feed. Also check the Duluth News Tribune live weather blog).

Up until the last 24 hours, the worst flash flooding in Minnesota history occurred 40 years ago, when Little Falls was victimized. About 10 inches fell near Fort Ripley and damage totalled $20 million.

Judging by this picture, uploaded on Twitter by Flygirl_Jules at 9th Ave East and Skyline Parkway, it’s going to be worse in Duluth.


We’ve already had more rain in a shorter period of time than the 1972 flood. Coincidentally, flash flooding hit Duluth that September.

What’s going on here? Corn, a Weather Nation forecaster said on his broadcast last night. Specifically, he said, corn in Nebraska, offering no particular proof of the theory.

On his outstanding weather blog, Paul Huttner relayed the results of a climatologist’s home-grown experiment on this in 2010, finding dewpoints were higher near corn in St. James:

My take away from Pete’s little experiment is that corn does play a role by increasing summer dewpoints in densely planted areas. The effect is real, and millions of acres in the Midwest are planted with corn. This is not instrument failure, but rather success in picking up on the air mass modification by some row crops.

The next question is; are the higher moisture levels significant enough to cause additional low level moisture to fuel thunderstorms and enhance rainfall? In science, we call this process a “feedback loop.”

There are still many unanswered questions about corn and humidity. But on one day in August in the sweaty summer of 2010, a guy with a “psychro dyne” in a corn filed in St. Paul confirmed what many meteorologists have long observed. The corn is making things more humid in Minnesota….at least in the middle of the corn field.

By the way, the weather in Lincoln, Nebraska today will be 95 and stormy. I blame Kansas.

Stay safe, Duluth.


In the aftermath of Jack Jablonski’s devastating injury — he was paralyzed — when hit from behind in a JV hockey game last winter, youth hockey officials tightened the rules to prevent checking from behind, increasing penalties for players who do so.

Never mind.

The Star Tribune reports today that Minnesota Hockey is likely to undo the rule and go back to the way things were. The paper reveals a split within the youth sport with many of its officials not wanting to change the way things were in the first place.

But, they needed a good reason to do so at a time when a kid with a bright future in front of him is paralyzed, his friends and family calling for the crackdown on hitting from behind in the first place.

This is what they came up with:

The push to undo the changes at the youth level apparently stems from concerns that the penalties take players off the ice for too long and hampers their ability to learn how to properly play the game.

Try this with your young son or daughter at home and let us know how it turns out. “I’d send you to your room for pushing your sister down the stairs, kid, but it would hamper my ability to learn how to properly behave.”

There isn’t as much checking in youth hockey, officials say, so a five- or 10-minute penalty changes the nature of the game. But it’s the youth hockey system that feeds the rest of the hockey world and if it’s delivering players who don’t know the rules of the older system, what is it’s value?

Ken Pauly, the coach of Benilde – St. Margaret, where Jablonski played, called checking from behind “the most dangerous play in hockey and we should all be standing shoulder-to-shoulder on that one.”

But Hal Terse, who coaches at Providence Academy, told the paper, “If we get too aggressive, a generation of kids will be afraid to go in the corners or play along the boards for fear of getting kicked out. I’d like to believe we have the ability to coach the kids to play more safely and empower the referees to call the game properly.”

One wonders what the parents of young hockey players have to say?


Can private business pick up the lost jobs from smaller government? The theory is being put to the test and so far, at least judging by today’s New York Times story, it’s not working.

After the stimulus money ran out, government payrolls have been shrinking, especially local government. In many cases — half the cases, actually — those are teachers.

And that, the article claims, is what’s stalling the economy:

Businesses can also be hindered by government cuts. They not only lose prospective

If governments still employed the same percentage of the work force as they did in 2009, the unemployment rate would be a percentage point lower, according to an analysis by Moody’s Analytics. At the pace so far this year, layoffs will siphon off $15 billion in spending power. Yale economists have said that if state and local governments had followed the pattern of previous recessions, they would have added at least 1.4 million jobs.

Conservatives have argued that the government was bloated after a hiring surge during the housing boom and is now returning to a more appropriate size. Michael D. Tanner, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, criticized the president’s budget proposal to give states an additional $30 billion for teachers, police officers and firefighters. “Those new public sector jobs must be paid for with more debt and taxes borne by the private sector,” he wrote.

What’s happening here? The country is learning that government workers by things from private businesses.


This is a nearly incomprehensible statistic. In the entire United States, there are only three black-owned grocery stores. It comes in this insightful PBS NewsHour story about what happened when a suburban Chicago family tried to spent a year patronizing black-owned businesses.

“Don’t just say that black unemployment is four times that of whites,” Maggie Anderson says. “Say that black businesses only get 2 percent of the $1 trillion of black buying power, and then say that black businesses are the greatest private employer of black people.”

It might explain why the unemployment rate among blacks is in the double-digits.

Watch One Family’s Effort to Buy Black for a Year on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

“If buying black-only has the effect of encouraging African Americans withdraw into ethnically monolithic communities, I think that would be a grave mistake,” a commenter on the PBS site said. It was one of the few that wasn’t vitriolic.


Three years of “Northern Lights” over Sweeden.

Lights Over Lapland the Aurora Borealis Experience from Lights Over Lapland on Vimeo.


The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on the Affordable Care Act, the health reform law that many Democrats regard as President Obama’s signature accomplishment. Today’s Question: What’s at stake for you in the Supreme Court’s health care ruling?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Florida perspective on Obama’s immigration decision.

Second hour: How to invest in the current stock market?

Third hour: Is Earth near a “tipping point” when it comes to climate change?

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm):

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – The Political Junkie.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Catholic bishops are launching a”Fortnight for Freedom” campaign — two weeks of praying and fasting because the Church believes its religious freedoms are threatened by the Obama administration’s health care mandate. But not all Catholics agree. NPT reports on a controversial religious/political protest.

  • Okay, *now* I get to stop complaining about seeing dryish waterfalls on the North Shore back in early May.

  • BenCh

    This has definitely been an insane time. The Lake Superior Zoo experienced severe flooding. A seal escaped and made it’s way onto Grand Ave ( proof from twitter: https://t.co/4IGFggWb ).

    Fox21 reports that a polar bear did escape its exhibit, but not the zoo. At least 8 animals are reported dead.

    I have not heard of any human fatalities yet, which is great. I heard stories of people escaping flooding basements through windows, and cars with occupants being rescued from sinkholes. Definitely a flood of the century.

  • matt


    Yes, govt workers spend money in the private economy but the question has to be do the govt workers provide value for the $ they take out of the economy via taxation for payrolls? Given the economic contraction that has occurred it should not be unexpected that the govt should contract as well? Govt has only shed one job for every 11 private sector job that was lost:


    There is the level of teachers we would like to have, and there is the level of teachers we can afford. Just as there is the number of nights we would like to eat out, and the number of nights we can afford to eat out.

    I could buy into the Keynesian model of stimulating our way through a recession if we didn’t already stimulate our way through a boom. There is never the needed offset that makes the theory good practice.

  • Kassie

    I played high school girls’ hockey the first year Minnesota had a league. Checking of any kind was against the rules. So I guess they weren’t so concerned with us learning “how to properly play the game.”

  • Bob Collins

    // Govt has only shed one job for every 11 private sector job that was lost

    That’s a great statistic and it sure sounds like someone isn’t pulling their share of the sacrifice. But it leaves out a pretty important statistic — the percentage of total employment that is government-related.

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 21,969,000 people work in government jobs.111,040,000 work in private. Thus 16 percent of the non-farm workforce is government work.

    Two years ago — May 2010 — 107,191,000 worked in private industry. 22,626,000 worked in government jobs.

    On a net basis, 3.8 million more people are working in private business now, compared to two years ago (May).

    Meanwhile, there are 657,000 fewer people working in government jobs.

    My math says that for every private job created, 5.8 government jobs were lost.

    Four years ago, meanwhile, 114,968,000 were employed in the private sector, 22,478,000 in government. That’s a 7 percent decline in the private sector.

    And a pretty small decline in the government sector, to be sure.

    The key in making a 1:1 comparison on the NUMBER of jobs lost is adjusting for the percentage of jobs in the overall economy by a particular sector.

    How did you get your statistic?

  • matt

    “The key in making a 1:1 comparison on the NUMBER of jobs lost is adjusting for the percentage of jobs in the overall economy by a particular sector.”

    #3, talks about the impact of govt job loss on the economy so we are talking about raw numbers as opposed the % of govt job loss on the economy. So if we are talking about the absolute impact on the economy worrying about govt job loss is not really a means to fixing the problem. The other 11/12 of jobs lost should be a more pressing priority, no? I get that govt cannot hire construction workers, mortgage brokers and candlestick makers as effectively as it can teachers, fire fighters and police officers but that is not a cure all. Worse yet the economic impact of marginal fire fighters, police officers and teachers is far less than marginal private sector jobs especially in manufacturing, natural resources and durable goods. So targeting the least effective and smallest section, which is also the most politically connected portion (or we would not even be having this conversation) is not only a small solution it is a step backwards.

  • Disco


    “There is the level of teachers we would like to have, and there is the level of teachers we can afford”

    Wrong. There is the level of teachers we CHOOSE to afford.

  • Jeanne

    After viewing the videos of the flooding in Duluth, I have a question. What does the saturated ground do to the foundations of buildings?

  • Disco


    It’s not good for foundations. I know a person in Minot whose house last summer was flooded to the first story windows, so the foundation sat under water for many days. She completely rehabbed the house, but she said the basement walls moved and are “bowing” to some extent. No work was done to the foundation (evidently it wasn’t bad enough to fix).

    But I’m guessing she’ll never be able to sell the house, even after the renovations.

  • matt


    I accept your correction. But I will say that the conversation is never that simple because we do not have a straight “teacher contribution”. So we may put a limit on what we are willing to allow govt to spend – giving us what we can afford to spend on teachers, roads, bombs, etc so we are left to govt stepping in. “Yeah! we have a stadium plan with no new taxes but no money for teachers because we cant raise taxes!” I am not sure this is what we would have ended up with if we, “the people” got to choose between the two options. (of course for whatever reason the number of people willing to travel to St. Paul to buy a playground for millionaires always seems to exceed the number of people willing to travel for more teachers…so maybe we are choosing the current number :- (

  • Bob Collins

    // #3, talks about the impact of govt job loss on the economy so we are talking about raw numbers as opposed the % of govt job loss on the economy. So if we are talking about the absolute impact on the economy worrying about govt job loss is not really a means to fixing the problem. The other 11/12 of jobs lost should be a more pressing priority, no?

    I’m sorry, I’m a little slow today. I didn’t see an answer to the question I asked about the source of the numbers and conclusion. The blog you cited didn’t give a source for the numbers, it’s time period or context. I’m curious about the data that’s being used.

  • Jamie

    ”The country is learning that government workers b[u]y things from private businesses.”

    Well, duh… It’s about time someone else realized that.

    Also, comparing numbers of jobs lost in each sector and making moral judgments about the comparison is not appropriate anyway. We HAVE to have teachers and firefighters and driver license examiners and people processing our tax returns, and the millions of other people who serve their communities, and jobs that keep our country running relatively smoothly. The same cannot be said about widget makers in the private sector who are laid off when the need for widgets wanes. The private sector and the public sector have very different missions. There is no reason why the public sector should have to “sacrifice” workers just because the private sector has lost workers.

    I’ve always been very skeptical about the private sector ever being able to hire all the government workers who lose their jobs because of Republicans not wanting to raise taxes on their millionaire friends.

  • SomeGuy

    Of course corn causes humidity issues, just do a search on “corn Evapotranspiration.” It’s been shown that recent overplanting of corn has caused the water tables to drop and all of that water has to go somewhere.

  • matt


    Charts in the blog identify BLS payroll survey as the source, same as Ezra Klein used in his summation:


    Of course both try and bottle into a bashing or sheilding of Obama. And in both the timing of the numbers are very clear. Same numbers you seem to be using as well so I don’t think we are disagreeing on the numbers.

  • Jeanne

    I have another Duluth flood question. What about bridges and overpasses. When the surrounding soil becomes saturated to this degree, does the stability of the structure become compromised, even after water recedes and soil “dries out”? I really wonder about how safe bridges, etc. will be once the water recedes. Any engineers in the audience?

  • Bob Collins

    // so I don’t think we are disagreeing on the numbers.

    You maybe right. If so, then:

    Govt has only shed one job for every 11 private sector job that was lost


    for every private job created, 5.8 government jobs were lost.

    Come from the same data.

    Lies, damn lies, an statistics, eh?

  • matt


    Same set of numbers different start dates for measurement. One could drastically alter the size of govt jobs shrinking simply by starting to measure right after govt hired 564,000 people for the 2010 census (impact seen in link to Ezra piece). That would paint a much worse picture.

    Since the crisis began in 2008 it seems logical (to me) to start the measurement there. Since 2010 is when the economy started its, not growth…but reversal of previous losses, it seems like a less logical point to measure from when we are talking about how to fix what is wrong.

    Total govt job loss 2008 to date -407K

    Total Private job loss 2008 to date -4607k

    Total govt job loss 2010 to date – 502k

    Total private job gains 2010 to date +4267k

    So even after adding 4.2 million jobs in the last 2 years we are still 4.6 million below private employment in 2010. And again the marginal value is going to be higher on manufacturing, etc than it will be on teachers, etc – especially when it comes to generating economic activity to employ the other unemployed people.

    Beyond that since govt job loss lagged private job loss (by my math govt added 95k jobs between 2008 and 2010) would we not expect govt job growth to lag private job growth? Do we not have fixed govt jobs and marginal govt jobs? Would there not be logical economic events that trigger changes in size? I think even Keynes would say that is true, and would agree that the elasticity of demand for govt might be different than the elasticity of demand for the economy as a whole. So a natural decline in the economy of 5% might create a natural decline in govt of 7%. Again, like it or not, the 2010 election was about reducing the size of govt.

  • kennedy

    #3 //…concerns that the penalties take players off the ice for too long and hampers their ability to learn how to properly play the game.

    I am a parent of a young hockey player and this is bologna.

    Players learn how to play the game at practice. USA hockey recommends 2-3 hours of practice to one hour of game time. And most players are actually on the ice for about 30-50% of a game, but 100% of practice. I understand that change is uncomfortable. I also understand that youth hockey and the NHL are dealing with repurcussions of in-game violence. Checking from behind risks serious injury and it needs to be stopped. Cleaning up the game will make them more exciting as quick kids with skill will no longer be overshadowed by big kids that hit hard. It works in europe, they play a less physical/more open style. Look how many NHL stars develop in that environment.

  • bea

    #4: I understand that news on the web is the home of haters, but why should people trying to *end* the chronic unemployment for which they are so often _blamed_ ALSO draw the hate? Sigh!

    And speaking of hate… last summer’s it’s-the-heat-AND-it’s-the-humidity week of misery was too much for me. I hate the corn all summer long now.