Monday, October 31, 2011

Climate Change like Crazy

As a resident of the Northeast, I'm used to a certain amount of weird weather.  Sure, you can start the day sunny and 70 and end up with a hail storm.  Rain storms pass through seemingly from nowhere, soaking everything for 5 minutes and then disappearing.  My years spent in LA didn't make me as hypersensitive to any weather as you might think, though it is nice to see forecast after forecast predicting partly cloudy and high in the 70s ad infinitum.
But if you've been paying attention these past few months, you have to admit that the weather has gotten ridiculous.  If the term Global Warming throws you off because it doesn't always seem that warm, then just admit that the climate is not what it used to be.  As evidence, here is a highlight reel from the past four months in the New York area.
In late July, we suffered an extreme heat wave.  The temperatures were in the 100s for the better part of a week, made all the worse by the high degrees of humidity.  On one of the worst days, I refused to make the descent into the hellish subways and instead walked to a bus stop, taking a break every block inside an air conditioned store to cool and dry off before continuing on.  When I made it to the bus stop, I waited inside a nearby Duane Reade until the bus pulled up.  Clearly my experience could have been worse as over 20 people died from the heat that week. 
By comparison, August seemed mild.  However toward the end of the month, things took a turn.  Within one week, we experienced an earthquake and a hurricane.  Now, the earthquake actually hit in Virginia with a magnitude of 5.8, which is pretty large for the region.  Southern Californians would have yawned and gone on with their day, but on the east coast, people were pretty freaked out.  What we felt in New York was a minor tremor, but for people not used to the ground swaying, which you feel more the higher up in a building you are, it was a major event.  In my office, it prompted heated debates about whether the proper protocol is the stand in a doorway or to hide under your desk like in Cold War Air Raid drills.  (In case you are curious, the latter is now the preferred protocol) 
Some days later, the warnings poured in about the approach of Hurricane Irene, one of the rare tropical storms actually maintaining strength as it approached the northeast.  I remember Hurricane Bob, and boarding up the windows and all the men going out with their chainsaws to clear the road afterwards.  But it was 1991 and I was young enough that I just sat inside reading until the storm passed.  This time, it was a flurry of activity, everyone go buy water and canned foods, and fill your gas tanks for your generators, and get out the flashlights.  I went out to CT the night before the impending doom of the great storm and took care of these errands.  I also filled lamps with kerosene and pots with water.  The storm itself didn't really get going until late into the night, but then it ripped through, leaving our house without power for week afterwards.  Trees were torn up and toppled onto power lines and streets flooded, though in our area nothing compared to the damage done in New Jersey and Vermont.  For New Yorkers, it was a lot of alarm for not a lot of actual catastrophe.  There were some power outages, the trains and subways stopped running for a while, but no major damage was done. 
As Fall began, the Northeast began to put itself back together.  The weather was mild, remaining pretty warm through most of October, and the leaves changed slowly without frost hurrying their transformation along.
And then, Halloween weekend, we get this snow storm.  The idea of snow this early in the season isn't entirely unheard of, though usually at this point you would expect a light dusting, not even sticking to the ground in most places.  With the temperatures for the day staying above freezing, most of us expected nothing more than an unpleasant wintry mix that would result in slush.  We did not anticipate 5-6 inches of very wet, very heavy snow piling up everywhere.  Once again, I ventured out to CT, but because of Friday Halloween celebrations, I went out on Saturday in the thick of it.  A train ride that normally takes me a little over an hour to get to my home town instead lasted for over two and a half hours, at the end of which I couldn't even get all the way to my town as service on that line was suspended.  My parents came out to pick me up, winding through various routes to find where the roads were still clear and passable.  By the time we got back home, my travel time was over five hours.  The main cause of the excessive damage was that the heavy wet snow stuck to the leaf laden branches, weighing them down until they broke off all over the place, on streets, power lines, houses, cars, train tracks, etc.  My family was lucky, and, for maybe the first time in a storm ever, didn't lose power; aside from several down trees, our property is fine.  But over 800,000 people in CT did lose power, with no clear dates of when it will be restored, all the more dangerous for the sudden cold snap.  This was actually a record setting storm, according to ABC News: “The record for snow in October for New York City is .8 inches set on Oct. 30, 1925,” said senior meteorologist Paul Walker.
When you start talking about Historic and Record Breaking weather, you have to admit that there is something unusual going on with the climate. 
So going into the end of the year, we are looking at more extreme weather, nudged on by La Nina and the Arctic Oscillation.  Sometimes I can't help thinking that people with their end of the world survival caves and cellars might be on to something.

Good luck, friends.

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