Thursday, June 12, 2008

Quick, somebody build an ark

Does anyone even know what a cubit translates to in modern measurements?

It's raining as I type this, another line of storms running across the state and producing more heavy rain. I figure, if we could find a way to give even 50% of the precipitation that's fallen over Wisconsin in the last week to drought-ridden places like Georgia or California, everyone would be better off.

The news looks ever more glum: the historic Mid-Continent Railroad Museum in North Freedom is entirely flooded after the Baraboo River spilled over its banks (7 feet higher than the previous record). I'd like to reprint a call by Caffeinated Politics to urge everyone to do what they can to help the museum clean up the mess and get back on their feet after this disaster. He's included the mailing address where donations can be sent.

There are, unfortunately, many places and people who are and will be in need of financial and material assistance because of the flooding. We'll be hard-pressed to make sure everyone who needs help gets it, and for some people, even then it won't be enough to make up for what they've lost.

Early estimates put losses from damaged crops in the tens of millions. Farmers across the state are dealing with the second major flood in just 9 months. Tens of thousands of acres of crops lost to the flood waters, having to re-plant late in the season, and the already high cost of foodstuffs will only worsen the situation.

There's a noteworthy quote in the above linked WSJ article, from Richard de Wild of Harmony Valley Farm (a major supplier of organic goods for local restaurants and groceries): "To have another huge (rain) event nine months later makes me say, 'What is wrong with our weather?'"

Most experts point to the current three-year La Niña cycle - a cooling event in the Pacific Ocean that counters the warm water cycle of La Niño. An article printed in Time Magazine back in July 1998 lays out the predictions scientists were making about the switch from boy to girl that seem to have come true:
Trouble is, La Niña is likely to bring her own set of weather problems. Last week scientists meeting in Boulder, Colo., at a La Niña summit sponsored by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) sketched out a lengthy list: more Atlantic Ocean hurricanes. Colder winters across Canada. Wetter winters in the Pacific Northwest. Warmer, dryer winters in the Southern U.S. More wildfires in Florida. Lower wheat yields in Argentina. Torrential rains in Southeast Asia.
Happily, predictions have the La Niña period tapering off by the end of this year. Still, it's hard to shake off the sneaking suspicion that our weather patterns have been growing ever more erratic and severe overall. Several studies have recently been released tracking a correlation between increased global temperatures due to higher levels of greenhouse gases. This may be exacerbated by regular events like El Niño/a, so it may not be reasonable to pin the blame squarely on the shoulders of any one factor. Even so, I think a good argument could be made for working to lessen the severity of weather patterns by decreasing the levels of greenhouse gases released, and other disruptive habits.

In the meantime, we're left to clean up the mess. What's important is that we balance a concerted effort to change our overall habits and pass meaningful environmental legislation with an immediate and comprehensive disaster response. Making sure adequate state and federal funds are allocated, and that they actually get to the people and places most in need in a timely fashion. Keep an eye out, too, for donation and volunteer campaigns set up in the coming weeks, and please do what you can to help.

EDIT TO ADD: The Political Environment makes an excellent point about reassessing how we use land and how it relates to flooding.


Anonymous said...

When someone builds a new home Lake Delton and gets flooded, you partially indict the owners for locating near a waterway. Yet when the Mid-Continent Railway Museum gets flooded, you make a plea to help the museum get back on its feet. Why not criticize the museum for locating (albeit many years ago) in a river valley?

Don't use this as an opportunity to rail against a type of development you may or may not like. Nature doesn't pick and choose. The unprecedented rainfall of 10-15 inches in a week would flood places that are 2 years old or 200 years old, that are built with "new urbanism" or suburban subdivision design. There is little or no new development in Rock Springs or North Freedom that would have contributed to flooding, yet the railway museum is still under water.

What shall we do next? Criticize the entire city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for locating on a riverway sometime 150 years ago?

The CDP. said...

This sucks all around, and it's not even close to over. After the Winter we just survived (yeah, we survived it), it seems like each season is just a horrible waiting game until the next set of environmental bull honky.

Emily said...

If there's any blame to be placed, it lies either solely on nature for the freak weather, or partly on people - who may very well be causing the conditions that lead to increased incidents of freak weather, and the land's decreased ability to deal with it. I lean toward the latter, which I know may not be the most popular position.

Building in river valleys or along man-made shores isn't something I'd point and say "You jerk! You deserve this!" for (in fact, I don't believe anyone effected by the flooding deserves it).

But I still don't think we should be too surprised when a man-made lake bows under the pressure of torrential rains and reverts back to its natural state. There also remain the questions of whether or not the town officials wrongly ignored FEMA floodplain recommendations, or if maybe FEMAs maps were flawed. I think those are issues worth investigating further, especially because, whatever the case, the decisions have now come back to bite a lot of people in the ass. Hard.

Again, let me be clear: I don't wish what's happening on anyone. I don't place all of the blame for what's happening on anyone, either. Mostly, you're right, this is a (hopefully!) once in a thousand years event, and there was little we could do to prevent it or know to prepare for it.

Still, we're not all blame-free - paving over wetlands and water absorbing ground at high rates hurts the land's ability to absorb heavy rain. Damming rivers and not properly surveying the land around them is no good either. None of that helps.

The Lost Albatross