SoCS: flood anniversary

Linda chose “where” as a prompt for this September 11th, assuming, perhaps correctly, that most posts would be about where we were when we found out about the 9/11 attacks in the US twenty years ago.

In Broome County NY where I live, besides the twenty year retrospectives of the 9/11 attacks, we are having the ten year retrospective of a record high flooding event on the Susquehanna River. The ground was still saturated from hurricane Irene when the remnants of tropical storm Lee dumped about ten inches of rain.

Where my house is is near a flood wall for a creek that runs into the Susquehanna. The creek came up fast with the river flooding a bit later as it collected all the run-off from the creeks as well as what was running off the hills and being dumped by storm drains.

The power was shut off in our neighborhood as the houses closer to the river started to flood. If we didn’t have a generator, our basement would have flooded when our sump pump lost electricity. One of my Memories on Facebook helpfully reminded me that two blocks from us houses had basements totally full of water and two blocks in the other direction the road was washed out and a gas main was broken. Three blocks away there was standing surface water. A big intersection of Main Street and the Parkway was underwater, too.

Most of our neighborhood had been evacuated the night the flooding began, but our little section was only under evacuation order for a few hours on the third day of the flood. We later discovered that the reason was that they were afraid of the flood wall being overtopped. Even though the creek itself had begun to recede, the flooding of the river had backed water up into the creekbed so that the water was within a foot of the top of the wall. (Just to clarify, this is an earthen/stone flood wall, not a concrete one.)

We have been lucky not to have had another severe flood like that one in the last ten years. The prior record-setting flood had been in 2006 and I fully expected we would have had another horrible flood by now.

Unfortunately, I know it is just a matter of time. Looking around the US, we have catastrophic fires in the West and flooding aftermath in Louisiana and the South, in Tennessee, and across a swath of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. There are fires in Siberia, floods in Germany and other areas in Europe, killer heat waves, and on and on. While the events themselves are natural, they have been made worse by human-caused climate change.

We have so much work to do to try to stabilize the climate and protect human, animal, plant, and marine life. And we are far behind in our efforts.

I’m upset because scientists and activists have been warning about this for decades. I myself have tried to amplify the message about climate change. It seems that people are finally listening but the amount of change of policy and behavior now will have to be huge to make a dent. Our family has tried hard to reduce our carbon footprint and to advocate for change but the world needs those in power to finally step up and lead. Governments and businesses need to put people and planet over profits. The money won’t be worth much if the planet becomes uninhabitable.
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This less-than-cheery post is part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday series. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/09/10/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-sept-11-2021/

Hawai’i and Climate Change

Hawai’i is the inhabited place that is most distant from any other inhabited place in the world. Because of its isolation, Hawai’i is home to more endemic species than anywhere else on earth. Endemic means that a species is found just in that one area and nowhere else on earth. In such a remote location in the middle of the Pacific, one is tempted to think that climate change won’t affect the islands, but that is a mistake. There is a reason that climate change often appears with the adjective “global” in front of it.

The ecosystems and microclimates of Hawai’i are already complicated, due to topography. There are dry leeward sides and wet windward sides. The height of some of the volcanoes creates an alpine ecosystem. The peak of Kaua’i is the wettest place on earth, averaging over 450 inches of rain a year, yet other areas are deserts. There are tropical, temperate, and dryland forests.

Yet, even here, the climate is changing noticeably. The trade winds are what keeps Hawai’i from being as hot and humid as one would expect at this latitude, yet more and more often the trade winds stop blowing. This creates longer periods of hot, humid weather, even when it isn’t summer. Most of our time in Honolulu, there was a heat wave, despite it being early May. The trades dying down exacerbates vog, which is smog caused by volcanic ash. Given that Kilauea has been erupting continuously, the airborne ash can travel to other islands and create air quality problems for them. When the trade winds die down, the ash levels build up and people with breathing difficulties suffer.

The native Hawaiians named only two seasons, the rainy season and the hot season. In our current terms, the rainy season was late fall through early spring, but, as we see in other parts of the world, weather tends to be more extreme, so the wet season tends to be wetter and longer, with more possibilities of thunderstorms, which had been very rare. Meanwhile, the hot season is hotter and can get much more humid when the trade winds die down, which is happening much more frequently than in the past.

The increased dryness of the dry ecosystems makes them more vulnerable to drought. When we were on the leeward side of the Big Island, there were many signs warning of extreme fire danger. Wildfire is especially dangerous in Hawai’i because the plants evolved there without that threat, so they are not adapted to survive or re-populate after it. The problem is made worse by invasive species, such as fountain grass which grows on relatively fresh lava flows, making them useless as natural fire breaks. When we visited Ka’upulehu , Wilds was telling us about some of the problems that climate change is causing for them in their mission to restore a native dryland forest, one of which was the need to maintain fire breaks around the perimeter to protect the native plants.

The people of Hawai’i are working to reduce their carbon footprint to help fight climate change. There are many more electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles here, along with public charging stations. Rooftop solar photovoltaics and hot water are common. There is a light rail system being built in Honolulu to alleviate wasted time and fuel on the highway. There is some utilization of geothermal power, as well.

I have already been trying to do my part to combat climate change and this trip makes those efforts seem that much more important. I hope you will join me in work toward energy efficiency and renewable energy for the sake of extraordinarily beautiful Hawai’i and the rest of the world.