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Weather's World


Wherever something potentially problematic happens in the country or in the world, our internet weather site posts plentiful links to reportage. Looking for news about torrential rainfall and potential flooding in Wisconsin (where I live) and Florida (where I'm visiting), I learned about flooding elsewhere in America—i.e., historic flooding in eastern Kentucky causing over 40 deaths; extensive flooding in Mississippi; severe coastal flooding in Alaska—and powerful flooding elsewhere in the world—floods in Italy causing 14 deaths; horrendous flooding in Pakistan causing 1,500 deaths; a historic typhoon in Japan causing millions of evacuations; a hurricane devastating Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean. Videos from cellphones and drones display a wide variety of inundations: communities underwater, roads washed out, homes deluged, people wading through viscous waters, rivers and lakes reaching ever higher levels and ever fiercer surges.


Everywhere I look, every part of the world is undergoing a wide range of climate problems. I follow the west coast weather frequently, to see what it's like where my son lives. In the southwest the challenge to the climate and to the lives lived there are the opposite of what my midwestern and southern relatives have been facing. They are confronted by the problem of drought. I've long been noticing the shrinking water levels in Lake Powell (the second largest reservoir in the US, now at its lowest level since it was first filled sixty years ago), and in Lake Mead, the Colorado River, the Great Salt Lake, all the most prominent locations that a massive population depends upon for electrical power and agricultural irrigation. Drought's impact on California, Nevada, Utah, Oregon, Kansas, and Oklahoma has challenged crop production everywhere


We're not alone. The European Union has reported that the drought in Europe is "the worst the continent has experienced in 500 years." One source listed the Rhine, the Danube, the Tiber, the Po, the Elbe, and the Volga as rivers that are drying up and disrupting shipping. Another source reported that, due to extreme heat and as much as 60% less rainfall than customary, the Yangtze, China's biggest river, is so considerably lower that it makes commercial navigation impossible. News footage often shows freighters everywhere unable to carry cargo further than their initial entry port. The internet often shows side-by-side images taken a couple years apart that demonstrate how shrunken certain waterways have become, how much certain shorelines have lowered, how historic discoveries surprisingly occur because previously unknown ancient dwellings and long-hidden community sites (as well as more recent criminal activities) have been revealed at exposed lake and river bottoms. Some of that news, in itself interesting or intriguing, would seem more positive if not for the circumstances that brought it to light.


The extensive heatwaves contributing to the drought also set the stage for massively destructive consequences, particularly abundant and devastating wildfires. On September 19, the National Interagency Fire Center claimed that, in the United States, "ninety-five large fires and complexes have burned 902,574 acres in 9 states." Idaho had 38 large fires burning, Montana 27 large fires. Smaller fires abound everywhere, especially in the northwest and the southwest. The NIFC's 2022 year-to-date chart listed 51,169 fires consuming 6,789,438 acres—so far.


Wikipedia lists nineteen countries in Europe and around the Mediterranean battling wildfires, the most extensively affected principally Algeria, France, Greece, Portugal, and Spain, but including the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Tunisia, Turkey, and others. The range of countries named suggests how persistent and widespread the fires have been. Heat waves contributing to the aridity and potential for wildfire have set record temperatures—115 degrees, 129 degrees—in many countries and caused major melting of previously impervious glaciers and mountaintop snowpacks. Antarctica, the Arctic Circle, the Alps, the Himalayas, the Dolomites—most of the locations we think of as permanently icebound all have appeared in videos of glacier loss and destruction, and melting ice contributes to rising sea levels everywhere. HT Tech reports online that NASA has displayed a view of the eastern hemisphere (Asia, Africa, Europe) showing what it calls a "HORRIFIC [the capital letters are theirs] heatwave on Earth as humans suffer unbearable conditions." It quotes Stephen Pawson, chief of the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office, asserting that "this large area of extreme (and record breaking) heat is another clear indicator that emissions of greenhouse gases by human activity are causing weather extremes that impact our living conditions."


Based on what I scroll past on Facebook or news sites, everyone's overwhelming preoccupation is on efforts to deepen our self-absorption. But recognizing the expanding impact of weather and climate change would locate us more solidly on the actual planet, in the actual climate, and make us more aware of the future our world races toward, the one we pretend we can't change.



Notes: NASA shows HORRIFIC heatwave on Earth as humans suffer unbearable conditions


NPR Morning Edition: Where the Colorado River Crisis is Hitting Home (9/22/22)



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