The stream is bank full. A month of nearly non-stop rain has this stream in a near state of rage; at the very least these rapidly flowing waters are ill-tempered and mildly violent. On bends the splashing waters fly up into the air and in areas where there is rapid elevation changes and severe drops the water crashes into scarred pools making the water both turbulent and out of control. The silt laden waters are mostly gray save the white foam and bubbles that seem to appear infrequently as the water rushes down through the narroe stream corridor. Banks, heavily damaged nearly two years ago in Hurricane Irene, are washing away, one layer at a time. I stand here, partially in awe, and partially in fear; not a fear of the here and now but a strong fear for what is about to be. These events are far too frequent these days and quite frankly they scare the living hell out of me.
As a long time amateur weather watcher, particularly as it relates to landscape ecology, I am considering the nearly unbelievable amplitude of the changing weather that has recently occurred in New England. This is not as easy as it might sound. Weather variations in New England are a standard occurrence and so I can’t jump to any conclusions here just because our weather seems more fickle than usual. In fact, I’m hesitant to draw any exact conclusions or even form definitive opinions given that if I were to use a “control”, that is a relatively scientific backdrop that showed weather norms, it would likely reveal variable weather conditions as normal in this temperate region.
The nearly 12 inches of rain this month, accompanied by extremely humid weather, is cause for some pause. Late April and May were unusually dry; so dry, in fact, that forest fire and brush fire warnings were prevalent throughout this area. This was most surprising because we had a snowy winter, followed by a March and early April where the snow pack melted quickly. But now, with fully saturated soils, all of the rain runs off immediately and we have nearly daily warnings of flash floods issues by NOAA, and organization that seems frequently inadequate at predicting the weather accurately for weather that is outside of the next 12 hours.
And while my tomatoes have resorted to life jackets in order to survive in our raised bed garden, the west is experiencing record heat and lack of rain that might end up rivaling the dust bowl era. Forest fires abound throughout much of the southwest. In fact, just today there was the terrible news of 19 fire fighters perishing in a battle against a fire in Arizona. A tragedy of maximum proportion, especially for the loved ones of these brave women and men.
Long ago I read an article that put forth the idea that as the result of global warming (it was not referred to as climate change in that era) the northeast US would become wetter, colder, with storms that were unpredictable and more frequent. The author (whose name I cannot remember) also said that the mid-west and west would become dry and fire damaged. He also went on to say that the corn belt would move north into the central region of Canada. It was his opinion that the Midwest would become so dry that a good deal of the top soil would blow away in the hot, dry winds.
This author pondered that the Northeast would become cooler and wetter. This was because the Gulf Stream in the North Atlantic, through the change in salinity and water density caused by melting glaciers and the polar ice cap, would either be forced south or cease to exist. And while this has not completely occurred yet the jury is still out as to whether this will happen or not. Certainly it is not out of the question.
Yes, there is long term evidence that our climate changes on its own without human influence. But we presently know of no period where it has changed so rapidly. In the past these changes appear to have happened over thousands of years. Keep in mind, however, that this information is based on our present level of knowledge. As we all know, knowledge changes with new findings, and no permanent opinion should be held on any scientific “fact”.
I am extremely concerned that what we may be witnessing is the beginning of a new era where extreme weather will be the norm. I am hopeful that we can either find ways to help mitigate the impacts of these changes, or reduce the severity of the changes by changing our own behavior. For instance, why are we not prioritizing energy conservation as a way to reduce carbon loading of our atmosphere. Research shows that with this technique alone we could reduce our carbon footprint by at least 40% if individuals, businesses, and government became obliged to reduce our energy use.
Some might say that we have not achieved this because it would hamper the age old notion that an ever expanding economy was necessary for our economic future. This idea ignores the concept of sustainability where an economy finds a level of stasis that both supports economic venture and ecological necessity. If we ever needed a major “think tank” on any idea where the best and brightest came together to help formulate a solution to an impending crisis this a topic worthy of such consideration.
As I write this on the first day of July in the year 2013 it is raining. We are expecting another 2 to 4 inches of rain in the next two days. This weather pattern is supposed to hold for at least the next six days, a set of circumstances that I am not looking forward to. And to our west it is hot. It is dry. And the weather they face is far more devastating, at least in the immediate future.
The odds are good that we will continue to see wild changes in our weather patterns for the foreseeable future. There is little we can do about the changes that may have already occurred. But we can all take action on preventing more devastation in the future. Reduce your personal energy consumption. Encourage your work place to do the same. Write to your Congressman, Senator, and the President with your concerns for the future as it relates to climate change. They need to hear from everybody in order to overcome the inertia set forth by big business for keeping the status quo. And the most important is talk to others about climate change. The more discussion there is the more curious people will become about the topic. Change comes from dialogue, analysis, and an active public.
Time is of the essence.
The rain comes down heavily as I stand, almost paralyzed, along the banks of this unabashed torrent. I cannot pull myself away from the streams violent nature. Like a pedestrian gawking at the results of a car wreck I can’t help myself. I am fixated on the disaster that seems to be unfolding. Not today, but in our future.
A large boulder gets dislodged from a nearby bank and tumbles into the raging waters. It tumbles downstream crashing into every object in its way. It is a force of nature that will be difficult to stop.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in July 2013,