The Weather Outside is Frightful

The weather is on everybody’s mind right now. Having just finished an hour and a half of snow-blowing, it is certainly on my mind. And on my shoulders and other parts of my body. Even with a blower, clearing six inches of snow and getting through that pile of frozen slush that the street plows throw into the end of my driveway takes some pushing. My neighbor doesn’t have a blower, so I clear the end of his driveway also. I would pat myself on the back, but it hurts too much to move like that.

As soon as someone mentions weather, the debate about global warming begins. I’m not going to take sides on that. I would just like to make a few observations. Do with them what you will.

Remember that, in 2007, the BBC broadcast a scientist’s prediction that the North Pole would be ice-free by 2013, and we’ve seen pictures of forlorn polar bears stepping from ice floe to ice floe. They’re probably having an easier time of it now because the ice pack has increased by almost thirty percent in the past year—something no major news outlet has mentioned, as far as I know. It’s still smaller than it was in 1980, but quite a bit larger than it was a year ago.

I don’t doubt that the earth’s climate is changing. It’s always changing. There are indications that such things are part of a regular cycle, not the direct result of human meddling. But there has been plenty of human meddling. We have deforested vast areas—including the United States. When Europeans first landed here, it is said, a squirrel could travel from the east coast to the Mississippi River without ever touching the ground. In the part of Michigan where I live, early European settlers’ diaries mention that the forests were so thick it was difficult to swing an axe.

That didn’t stop them, though, and today west Michigan is largely deforested farm land, just like other Midwestern states. Did you know that the state seal of Indiana shows a man with an axe chopping down a tree? Not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Hoosier state, is it? Oh, and there’s a buffalo running away from him. Even before Europeans arrived, the Native Americans in Indiana and Kentucky used to burn the forests to provide grazing land for the buffalo. Our concern for the Amazon rain forest may be too little, too late.

I have anecdotal evidence for climate change. When I arrived in Michigan in 1978 and for some years after that, I was finished mowing my lawn by mid-October. Snow on Halloween wasn’t unusual. My town’s famous Tulip Time festival started in mid-May. About ten years ago the start of the festival was moved back a week because the flowers kept getting ready earlier and earlier. And this year I mowed my grass on the first weekend of November and could have mowed it again the next weekend.

On the other hand, we’re now experiencing more snow and cold temperatures than we’ve seen in years. Several spots have already recorded their snowiest January ever, and we’ve still got a few days to go in the month. The snow banks along my sidewalks are waist high. It’s getting difficult to figure out where I’m going to put the snow when I blow it. We haven’t seen this much white stuff since the early 1980s.

And yet people who track migratory birds have noticed their arrival earlier in the spring, and some species are being seen farther and farther north. In the high Rockies lives an animal called a pika, a member of the rabbit family, although it looks like a chipmunk. Pikas cannot tolerate hot weather. In recent years they have moved higher and higher into the mountains. Some biologists worry that they might become extinct because they can’t move any higher without losing contact with their food supply of grasses and flowers.

The earth’s climate has been changing for millennia. Look at pictures of the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, especially Cave 4. Below the cave you’ll see striations left by the water that used to flow through that wadi. There are reservoirs of water below the Sahara Desert (which used to be an ocean bottom). The Libyans are building pipelines to bring that water to their cities on the coast of the Mediterranean. In 50 BC Julius Caesar described how the winters in Gaul were so cold that rivers froze, forcing him to withdraw over the Alps to winter quarters in northern Italy. The weather in France today is nothing like that.

Just as you can quote Shakespeare on any side of any argument, you can find evidence to support whatever stand you want to take on climate change. All I know is, there’s another three of inches of snow forecast here tonight and two more inches tomorrow. What I don’t know is, where I’m going to put it. And it’s not going to melt because the high for the next few days isn’t going to get out of single digits. So, yeah, the weather is on my mind.

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One Response

  1. A beautifully written and researched piece, Albert. And rather depressing–I still worry about those polar bears, and am concerned for my grandchildren facing this unpredictable weather. Of late in Vermont there have been more than twenty degrees between one day and the next, alternating regularly as though some evil mathematician is up there laughing at us–ready now to bombard us with ice pellets the size of golf balls!

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