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The derecho that hit a wide swath of Iowa missed Mark Mueller’s farm near Waverly last year, but a late August wind storm this year took a toll.

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Fair Bluff, N.C., can't afford to buy and demolish such ruined buildings.
(Photo by Mike Belleme, The New York Times)

"Climate shocks are pushing small rural communities . . . many of which were already struggling economically, to the brink of insolvency," Christopher Flavelle

reports

for The New York Times. Rather than bouncing back, places hit repeatedly by hurricanes, floods and wildfires are unraveling: residents and employers leave, the tax base shrinks and it becomes even harder to fund basic services. That downward spiral now threatens low-income communities in the path this week of Hurricane Ida and those hit by the recent flooding in Tennessee — hamlets regularly pummeled by storms that are growing more frequent and destructive because of climate change." (Not all are

hamlets

.)

Downtown Fair Bluff (Photo by The News Reporter, Whiteville)

Flavelle's object example is Fair Bluff, N.C.: "The town’s only factory, which made vinyl products, closed a few months after Matthew. The population of around 1,000 fell by about half. The federal government tried to help, buying the homes of people who wanted to leave, but those buyouts meant even less property tax, tightening the fiscal noose. Al Leonard, the town manager, who is responsible for its recovery, said his own job may have to be eliminated, and maybe the police department, too."

The city has received money from several sources for recovery, but it has a bigger plan, Flavelle reports: "Buy the ruined stores downtown, tear them down, clean up the land and turn it into a park that can flood safely. Build a new downtown a few blocks east on land is less likely to flood. Rebuild, revive and regain what has been lost. But the town can’t afford any of it." The price tag: $10 million. Leonard told him, “Fair Bluff’s recovery will go as far as someone else’s money will take us.”

Such money is usually federal, and the federal government lacks a coordinated approach, Flavelle reports: "In 2016, the Obama administration set up a working group among agencies that handle disaster policy and recovery, including FEMA, HUD and the Army Corps of Engineers, asking them to devise a coordinated approach for what experts call managed retreat — relocating entire communities from areas that can’t be protected. But that work stopped under President Donald J. Trump and hasn’t resumed. Instead, agencies continue to pursue their own programs, even if they conflict with each other." As examples, he cites the troubles of nearby towns, Princeville and Seven Springs, and reports the sad calculus: "With each flood, more people leave. The tax base shrinks. Those who stay lose the will to improve their properties, knowing that they’ll likely flood again."

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Here's a roundup of extreme weather across the nation, from hurricanes to wildfires, droughts, and extreme heat:

Drought is crushing ranchers in North Dakota. Farmers can't grow enough feed, so they're selling off their cattle before the animals starve. Read more here.

Hundreds of farmworkers across the U.S. have died from heat over the past few decades, but there are no federal rules protecting them. Read more here.

U.S. dairy farms grapple with high feed prices amid the drought. Read more here.

Hurricane Ida slammed into the Gulf Coast, causing widespread power outages and some rural hospitals to evacuate their critical patients to large hospitals—a difficult task when most large hospitals in the region are already overcrowded with Covid-19 patients. Read more here.

For households displaced by floods in New York state, the rural housing shortage poses problems. Read more here.

All residents on the California side of southern Lake Tahoe are ordered to evacuate as a huge wildfire approaches. Read more here.

Wildfire smoke has clouded summers for kids who are breathing in wildfire smoke, sometimes from hundreds or thousands of miles away. Read more here.

For residents of Paradise, Calif., the still-raging Dixie Fire serves as a constant reminder of the 2018 Camp Fire that destroyed their town. Townspeople are implementing an ambitious plan to identify the properties at the highest risk of burning and, if the owners are willing, buying the properties and turning them into fire-resistant green spaces. Read more here.

As temperatures rise, so do the health risks for California's farmworkers. Read more here.

California is the nation's top almond producer, but the drought is taking a toll on the industry. Read more here.

Wildfire smoke could threaten West Coast wines; grape growers are scrambling to protect their vineyards. Read more here.

The megadrought has prompted water cuts for farmers and residents; it's also setting the stage for bitter legal and political fights from conservationists who want to keep waterways wet to protect fish habitats. Read more here.

Conservation groups are suing the U.S. Forest Service over a plan to log some trees that burned down in an Oregon wildfire last year. The groups say an environmental study should be done first to make sure the logging doesn't cause flooding and doesn't hurt nearby rivers or endangered species. It's far from the first time conservationists have clashed with government officials over post-wildfire logging. Read more here.

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Creighton University chart compares current month to last month and year ago; click here to download it and chart below.

A July survey of rural bankers in 10 Midwestern states that rely on agriculture and energy showed slightly declining but still strong optimism about the economy, with the overall Rural Mainstreet Index falling slightly to 65.3 from July's 65.6. The index is a survey of bankers in about 200 rural communities with an average population of 1,300 in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Record-low interest rates, solid grain prices, and growing exports are key to rural economies in the areas surveyed. Agriculture Department data show that 2021 agriculture exports are more than 25 percent higher than from the same period in 2020, reports Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who compiles the index.

The home-sales index hit a record 84.4 from July's 77.4, while the retail-sales index dropped from July's 64.1 to a still-positive 54.7. The farmland price index rose to 76.6 from July's 71.0, marking the first time since 2012-2013 that the survey has recorded 11 straight months above growth neutral. The farm equipment sales index declined to 64.7 from July's 67.2, but the readings over the past several months have represented the strongest consistent growth since 2012, Goss reports.

However, the confidence index for local economies six months out fell to 59.7 from July's 65.6. That reflects bankers' worries about drought, rising coronavirus infections, political turmoil in Afghanistan, and widespread dislike among the surveyed bankers about the $3.5 trillion social-infrastructure spending bill before Congress. Only 9.4% of surveyed bankers support the bill (see chart below). And, though the new hiring index rose to 70.3 from July's 67.6, many bankers worry about continuing labor shortages that hinder rural businesses' growth.

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