I stepped onto my back patio and looked south beyond the Arkansas River. It flows past a few miles down the hill from my old, sandstone house. It was as if I could see the smoke rise from the ashes of Texas. It’s an anomaly, I told myself. Don’t blame the drought and fires on climate change. Not yet. It’ll only give fodder to the skeptics. This is weather, not climate. But Texas kept burning. Millions of acres scorched beneath the hottest summer in my lifetime. Then New Mexico burned, and Arizona burned when it wasn’t blanketed by dust storms blown in by a weather phenomenon called a haboob. Yes, I learned a new word; Haboob, an intense dust storm in dry, desert regions. The haboobs looked like Hollywood dropped a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark in the metropolis of Phoenix. I’m glad I watched via YouTube on a laptop; no need for me to experience a haboob, firsthand.
Remembering the previous winter, I smiled to think the snow was almost to my knees for over two weeks. In Oklahoma, I’m lucky to get enough snow to top my ankle boots, let along reach my knees. And it melts within a few days. Typically. That winter was not typical. We smashed the low temperature records by 10-15° F all over the state. Apparently, the winter snow pack in the Rockies was good enough for the spring melt to replenish the Colorado River, which was a good thing since Lake Mead and Lake Powell were at historically low levels. I wondered if the people in Phoenix ever worried about a lack of water to refill their pools. I sort of doubt that most worry about dry spigots and empty swimming pools. I could be wrong.
Spring arrived, and with spring came tornadoes. Many tornadoes. Back to back tornadoes squashed entire towns in the Southern states. I was in Montana enjoying the view of Flathead Lake outside my hotel. In the background, the television broke the coverage of Prince William’s wedding with news from Tuscaloosa, AL after a series of tornados left a devastating loss of life. Those of us in tornado alley usually take them in stride with minimum amounts of precautions. Well, we did until Joplin was hit with an EF-5. I sat at my laptop and watched my favorite meteorologist’s conversation with a stunned and shaken stormchaser. Joplin was gone. The stormchaser reported he recognized nothing. Everything was gone. Obliterated. Having grown up in tornado alley, this was the first time I paid attention. We have the best meteorologists, the best technology, and the best storm warning signals in the nation. How did this happen?
As the nation helped the survivors in Joplin, June bounded upon us like a Sun God with fireballs in his pockets, throwing them indiscriminately in every direction. June branded us with triple digits every day. High temperature records fell like the starving cattle in the parched state of Texas. One day, after lunch, I stepped outside and into the 115° F temperature. June’s branding iron sizzled a message on my forehead: ‘New Normal’. Oklahoma is a hot state, but not 115° hot. I had never felt 115°, and don’t care to ever experience it again. No thank you. Summer does not suit me as it does most people. I loathe hot weather. It’s my bitch season where I count the days until the coolness of fall and the beauty of winter snowfalls. However, following the hottest summer I ever experienced, winter never arrived. Not only was there no knee deep snow, there wasn’t any snow. It was barely what I call cold. And why is it that not one of the primary news stations ever questions a nexus of climate change to the weather related disasters?
Last summer when I received a late night text message from a New Mexico friend when the fire broke out near Los Alamos Laboratories, it said, “Pray for us”. La Nina played havoc with the weather last summer. There were over 73,000 wildfires, and nearly 9 million acres burned. The pictures of the cracked and dry soil in Texas linger in my mind. I thought, “Let’s wait and see what happens next year. The rain may come and break the drought that devastates the crops and livestock. La Nina won’t stay indefinitely. But when I had to mow the grass the first week of March, I didn’t tell myself it was an anomaly. I told myself that an anomaly was a possibility, but unlikely. Sure, La Nina is still affecting our weather, but I when I drag out the mower six weeks earlier than normal, and mow two weeks later into the fall, it is not an anomaly. When climatologists ring warning bells, it’s not an anomaly. Following the warm and dry winter, the fire season started early in Colorado Rockies. Now there are outbreaks of wildfires on New York’s Long Island, which is rare according to news sources. March, 2012 broke heat records across North America, but nary a word about climate change on any the main news channels.
Sila, is a word the Inuit use to describe the notion that weather equals consciousness. Perhaps, we need a word to describe the climate change coma that predominates American politics and policy. There will be more fires and floods. There will be prolonged drought. Odds are that Lake Mead and Lake Powell water levels will drop below the dead pool zone during my lifetime. I can do little but watch. Perhaps we need a new normal in American politics. This new normal would trend toward action in policy from politicians rather than fear driven by lies of those who bankroll the legislators. I won’t count on that happening. If it did, it would be an anomaly. Until then, we’ll watch the fires and the floods and the funerals.