Weather, taken to extremes

Thursday June 13, 2013

Remember those few lovely days in May when the sun shone brightly in a near-cloudless sky from dawn until dusk and the temperatures held at around 70?

Those were the days.

Lately in southern Vermont, the weather has tended toward drizzle and downright downpour. The Weather Channel as of press time was forecasting cloudy with showers, high of 64, with a 60 percent chance of rain for today and tonight.

Our soggy outlook of late is preferable to other parts of the country, where extreme weather has been wreaking havoc.

In Colorado Springs, Colo., stubborn wildfires fueled by days with temperatures above 100, high winds and extremely dry conditions have completely burned more than 100 homes and forced the evacuation of 7,000 residents as well as nearly 1,000 inmates at medium-security prison, according to an Associated Press story. Wildfires were also reported in New Mexico, Oregon and California.

Three weeks ago, a massive tornado swept through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, killing 24 people and injuring more than 300. It could take up to two years before the community is able to completely rebuild, Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis told the AP Wednesday.

On May 29, two tornadoes were confirmed to have touched down in the Albany area, according to the National Weather Service in Albany. With the accompanying thunderstorms, which we felt here in southern Vermont as well, came widespread power outages, flooding, and lots of trees and branches down.

On Wednesday, the National Weather Services forecasted a different kind of storm brewing: A "derecho" from the Great Lakes southeastward into the Mid-Atlantic states. Spanish for "straight" or "direct" a derecho in this context is "a widespread, long-lived swath of damaging winds associated with swift-moving thunderstorms," according to the NWS. A weather event qualifies as a derecho if the wind damage extends more than 240 miles and includes wind gusts of at least 58 mph for most of its path, according to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

This storm system is not predicted to come as far north as Vermont, thankfully. Cities in its path include Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Cleveland.

Weather forecasters at State College, Pa.-based AccuWeather have predicted an active severe storm season during the early summer.

"People can’t let their guard down," AccuWeather Expert Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski said on the homepage. "It looks like everybody is going to be vulnerable to severe weather this year from the Gulf of Mexico in early April up to the Midwest by late in the spring and early summer."

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is taking a proactive approach. On Tuesday he outlined a $20 billion plan to fortify the city with levees, flood gates and other defenses in an effort to prepare the city for global warming following the recent ravages of "Superstorm" Sandy.

Bloomberg’s plan, reported on by the AP, "marks one of the biggest, most ambitious plans ever for defending a major U.S. city from the rising seas and severe weather that climate change is expected to bring." His proposals, "would dwarf the estimated $12 billion that the Army Corps of Engineers has spent so far to improve the New Orleans area’s floodwalls, gates and levees since Hurricane Katrina in 2005."

Bloomberg defended the proposed extreme and expensive measures, "if we’re going to save lives and protect the lives of communities, we’re going to have to live with some of the new realities."

Washington Post Writers Group columnist Dana Milbank said in a recent column: "Among climate-change activists, the realization is spreading that the combination of political inaction on greenhouse gases, plentiful new petroleum supplies and accelerating changes in weather patterns means there is no escaping more life-altering floods, droughts and fires. Although ongoing efforts to reduce carbon emissions could mitigate even worse catastrophe, momentum has shifted in part to preparing for the inevitable consequences of a warmer planet."

Be it excessive rain, drought, snow or newfangled storm systems, extreme weather isn’t anything new: It goes all the way back to biblical times’ great floods, fires and droughts.

On days like today, when three wildfires are raging throughout drought-plagued Colorado and cleanup efforts continue in tornado-ravaged Oklahoma, it’s impossible not to wonder what comes next.

~Michelle Karas


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