Sunday, December 14, 2014

Will climate change Minnesota's Christmas?

Climate scientists are reported to have observed that global warming/climate change/Anthropogenic Climate Disruption will increase weather volatility. Paul Douglas was muttering about wind chill last July. This past November was brutally cold, as was most of last Winter. Now, in mid-December, it's like March. Fortunately, we know that Santa can deliver presents with or without snow on the roof and Rudolf's red nose can help Santa find his way even through fog like yesterday's and today's. But, as I looked at bare fields in December, I thought about what that does to mice and voles and moles and those that feed on them. No snow cover or intermittent cover, no subnivian zone, or at best an intermittent one. Nothing you can count on.

bare mid-December fields
bare mid-December fields
Photo by J. Harrington

Candidly, I wouldn't be upset if the mouse, vole, mole populations declined enough due to lack of snow cover that snakes had to concentrate more on pocket gophers. But, of perhaps more interest to the rest of you is this question: would you plan a Winter vacation, snowmobiling, ice fishing, dog sled rides, whatever, if the odds were no better than 50 / 50 that there'd be the snow or ice you needed? Marketing tubing or snow boarding might become a real challenge. I'm pretty sure temperatures like those we're having this weekend, in the 40's and up, are too warm for successful snow-making. The weather doesn't have to be constantly too warm to mess up WInter enjoyment, it just has to be volatile enough that you can't count on it. Susan Steingraber has written well about this at a personal scale. Think about what this kind of uncertainty may mean for a Polaris, Arctic Cat, Gunflint Trail resort, and at the scale of the regional, state and national economy. What about Utah's and Colorado's ski resorts and those they employ? The good news is, there was a sufficient (minimal) agreement in Lima for work on a Green House Gas reduction treaty to proceed. The bad news is, those who are supposed to know about these things claim the agreement won't keep the average temperature rise to a hoped for 2 degrees, it will allow for more like 3.5 or 4 degree change. I have no idea how that translates into an increase in volatility. Be sure to at least skim far enough in Steingraber's piece to get to the sentence about "... my son believes himself to be alive on a dying planet, ... because all the generations of parents before mine have been unable to deal with the facts and mount a response of sufficient scale to solve the problem..." Shouldn't we be doing more to be sure our children and theirs can enjoy a Merry Christmas? Or do we think we should substitute year-round boating on the St. Croix, as we float beneath the new and improved wild and scenic river bridge? We could put a fake Christmas tree on the poop deck of the yacht.

new, improved St. Croix-Stillwater bridge
new, improved St. Croix-Stillwater bridge
Photo by J. Harrington

Snow Signs

By Charles Tomlinson 

They say it is waiting for more, the snow
   Shrunk up to the shadow-line of walls
In an arctic smouldering, an unclean salt,
   And will not go until the frost returns
Sharpening the stars, and the fresh snow falls
   Piling its drifts in scallops, furls. I say
Snow has left its own white geometry
   To measure out for the eye the way
The land may lie where a too cursory reading
   Discovers only dip and incline leading
To incline, dip, and misses the fortuitous
   Full variety a hillside spreads for us:
It is written here in sign and exclamation,
   Touched-in contour and chalk-followed fold,
Lines and circles finding their completion
   In figures less certain, figures that yet take hold
On features that would stay hidden but for them:
   Walking, we waken these at every turn,
Waken ourselves, so that our walking seems
   To rouse some massive sleeper out of winter dreams
Whose stretching startles the whole land into life,
   As if it were us the cold, keen signs were seeking
To pleasure and remeasure, repossess
   With a sense in the gathered coldness of heat and height.
Well, if it's for more the snow is waiting
   To claim back into disguisal overnight,
As though it were promising a protection
   From all it has transfigured, scored and bared,
Now we shall know the force of what resurrection
   Outwaits the simplification of the snow.