We live in one of the world’s safest places in terms of the personal dangers from climate change. Yet, as we saw in recent weeks, with major flooding to our south and to our northeast, it’s not as if the global impacts won’t spill over here. Still, when family or friends have their homes destroyed, as I’ve seen with close friends in Paradise, California, or those in states unable to obtain reasonable home insurance, the effects of greenhouse gases are no longer hypothetical consequences that will only become practical for our children or grandkids.
There are five major potential in-our-face climate effects in terms of our personal properties. These are sea-level rise, inland flooding, wildfires due to drought, wind and rain damage due to increased storm intensity or frequency, and biological threats from pest infestations. When researching all this for an upcoming book in the 1990’s, I shared the information gleaned from spending days with climate experts in Boulder, Colorado. Using supercomputers, they showed me how various parts of Earth were expected to be impacted, with the graphic models running until the year 2100. I shared them with readers of this column in the 1990’s, even before Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth had come out.
Back then, I was happy to write that the Northeast U.S. was progged to continue to have ample rainfall, that key ingredient for life, making it very different from their forecasts for the American Southwest and for California. And our inland regions would, of course, be immune from sea level rises. Moreover, hurricanes would mostly lose their full power by the time they reached areas of the Northeast that are substantially inland. Biologically, the experts expected that mainly our maples would be adversely affected, although they also warned of a northward migration of disease pathogens and insects, which we’ve already seen in terms of deer ticks hitting areas of Vermont and New Hampshire whose previous winters were too cold for them to take root.
Indeed, the main change those experts foresaw for our region was for winter lows, meaning winter nights, to be warmer. It really didn’t seem bad at all. Of course, it’s the flood threat we’re now most aware of. In this realm, readers probably know whether their own property is or is not flood prone. Those in low-lying houses close to creeks, or in villages alongside brooks, as Margaretville and Phoenicia residents were dramatically reminded two hurricanes ago, can see floodwaters rushing through one end of their supermarket and out the other. But those with higher-up homes will be fine.
Basically if you stayed dry during the amazing rains last week, you’ll be fine going forward. Using NWS-rated equipment, Lake Hill fire chief Mike Lavin, and myself, each measured 3 ½ inches of rain during a mere hour during last Sunday’s storms. But here in Willow, between Woodstock and Phoenicia, that’s not enough to create flooding.
Yet it came after we’d gotten 5 ¼ inches the previous half week, and more than two inches right before that. It added up to ten inches in eleven days. For perspective, that’s 2 ½ months of normal rainfall in a half-month period, an amount received by nearly our entire Ulster and Dutchess county region. The key lifesaver was that here as in many places it was just spread out over enough days that the ground had time to absorb it or else let it safely run off.
It was amusing to see the US Drought monitor map (check it out online, it’s an excellent resource updated weekly) list our region as “excessively dry,” the first stage in their drought assessment thanks to the antecedent rainless May and early June we had, and then this week watch the map change to “normal moisture,” which they carefully assess based on vegetation and crop health, reservoir and stream levels, rainfall, and other factors.
Bottom line: we’re good. And if you got through the past few weeks in good shape, you’re likely to stay so, come what may. Of course, with CO2 now at 420 parts per million, up from the normal 280 ppm experienced during the past tens of thousands of years, I’m glad I sank major bucks into my solar panels and hybrid car. Let’s keep pushing for low-carbon energy. (I don’t hypocritically say “carbon free” because there’s no way I’ll give up gas cooking and heating with the firewood I split from my own dead ash trees. Anyway, here in New York the idiotic, fear-based closing of Indian Point ensured that we now suddenly switched from largely carbon-free to mostly generating electricity by burning fossil fuel and importing it from elsewhere.)