Thursday, August 11, 2016

Whither weather's water? #phenology

Last night's storms took down a couple of trees on our township road but left the power lines alone. Time to be grateful for small favors because without electricity there's no water, no air conditioning, no fans, no freezer or refrigerator, and no automatic garage door opener/closer. Of those, the lack of water would present the greatest obstacle since estimates are that humans can survive several weeks without food but a week or less without water. This Summer's weather pattern once again has me thinking about water and resilience and climate change. On Minnesota Public Radio this morning I heard a public works director in western Minnesota commenting they had experienced a 1/1,000 year storm. A washed out road in neighboring Wisconsin left a 15 foot drop where it was washed out. When the Better Half and I traveled along Minnesota's North Shore a few weeks ago, we noted a number of locations where local and state public works or transportation department crews were repairing road washouts from storms earlier this Summer. I'm starting to see a pattern here.

Summer thunderheads
Summer thunderheads
Photo by J. Harrington

Much of what I've read about climate change in Minnesota suggests that our Winters will warm faster than our Summers and that it will rain more and storms will be greater. We're already seeing the effects on lakes with algae blooms, rivers with sewage bypasses due to intense rains, and a growing need to repair infrastructure instead of simply maintaining or expanding it. What really has my attention today, however, could be seen in an updated chart of the bonus symptom, "the number of hours in a given year during which the dew point has been above 70 degrees." It looks like we may be close to or experiencing some of that as this is being written.


Last night's rainfall looks like it shows up in a number of Minnesota's rivers that have streamflows at or above the 76th percentile. Between excess moisture in the air and in our rivers, should we start to expect that future Summers will be "all wet?"

Summer Wind

By William Cullen Bryant


It is a sultry day; the sun has drunk
The dew that lay upon the morning grass;
There is no rustling in the lofty elm
That canopies my dwelling, and its shade
Scarce cools me. All is silent, save the faint
And interrupted murmur of the bee,
Settling on the sick flowers, and then again
Instantly on the wing. The plants around
Feel the too potent fervors: the tall maize
Rolls up its long green leaves; the clover droops
Its tender foliage, and declines its blooms.
But far in the fierce sunshine tower the hills,
With all their growth of woods, silent and stern,
As if the scorching heat and dazzling light
Were but an element they loved. Bright clouds,
Motionless pillars of the brazen heaven–
Their bases on the mountains–their white tops
Shining in the far ether–fire the air
With a reflected radiance, and make turn
The gazer’s eye away. For me, I lie
Languidly in the shade, where the thick turf,
Yet virgin from the kisses of the sun,
Retains some freshness, and I woo the wind
That still delays his coming. Why so slow,
Gentle and voluble spirit of the air?
Oh, come and breathe upon the fainting earth
Coolness and life! Is it that in his caves
He hears me? See, on yonder woody ridge,
The pine is bending his proud top, and now
Among the nearer groves, chestnut and oak
Are tossing their green boughs about. He comes;
Lo, where the grassy meadow runs in waves!
The deep distressful silence of the scene
Breaks up with mingling of unnumbered sounds
And universal motion. He is come,
Shaking a shower of blossoms from the shrubs,
And bearing on their fragrance; and he brings
Music of birds, and rustling of young boughs,
And sound of swaying branches, and the voice
Of distant waterfalls. All the green herbs
Are stirring in his breath; a thousand flowers,
By the road-side and the borders of the brook,
Nod gayly to each other; glossy leaves
Are twinkling in the sun, as if the dew
Were on them yet, and silver waters break
Into small waves and sparkle as he comes.


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