Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

It's a whole new world

The regular snow storm -- they come every five days, more or less -- hit on Wednesday while I was in Boston. So I called a plow guy to clear out the driveway of my country place on Friday. When I got out there Friday afternoon, he was about 30 feet up, and stuck. He was quite jolly about it, actually. He said he'd already been stuck a few times that day. He was digging out and he figured he's be back in business shortly. So I went next door to wait.

My neighbor was engaged in changing a tire on his bobcat. There was a mound of snow 7 feet deep all along the front of his house where he'd cleaned off the roof, and equally immense mounds all over the place interrupted by narrow channels for navigation. He told me he'd been doing nothing for the past two days but dealing with the snow. As you have deduced, the latest storm was deep and sticky.

I have now excavated my wood pile, yet again; shoveled off the roof of the sun porch, which was very arduous; and raked what I can off the relatively flat roof over the wing of my house. I also had to shovel out a front walk and the deck, of course. I'm reasonably fit but a day will come when I can't do this sort of thing any more.

I called my mother who lives about 40 miles away. Fortunately, neighbors had come and dug her out. But her friends aren't so young either and unless she can make some young friends she's going to be in major trouble if we have another winter like this one.

Oh yeah -- the forecast is absolutely horrendous, with another major storm predicted for midweek including freezing rain. If power lines come down, I've got no heat here unless I'm home to stoke the wood stove. But being home requires keeping that driveway clear, among other chores. My plan right now is that tomorrow morning I turn off the well pump, open the faucets, and get out of Dodge.

All of this would just be an overly dramatic tale to tell our children except that an increasingly popular hypothesis right now among climate scientists is that this is the new normal. Disappearing arctic sea ice has eliminated the polar vortex, allowing cold air to spill south. Meanwhile, the oceans are warmer, supporting more vigorous ocean storms, and the atmosphere holds more moisture, meaning more precipitation. Precipitation below 0 degrees centigrade is snow.

More winters like this will force drastic changes in the way people live, and where they live. It will cost a lot more to have a driveway, and getting snow off roofs will become a regular necessity. People who don't have the physical capacity to shovel snow and climb ladders will either have to hire people or more to the city. Communities will be drastically changed, life plans altered, land values affected, whole ways of life may disappear. I don't yet know if that will happen, but it's looking like a real possibility.

It just may be that a large part of Australia will be rendered uninhabitable; Pakistan also. If recent events in those places repeat, that will be the end for them. Yes folks, this is a big story.


C. Corax said...

This reminds me of the winters of a few decades back. What's weird is that you guys south of us have more snow than we got--not the pattern I remember from my youth.

I'm not convinced that one winter is going to be indicative of a pattern; the previous few winters were quite mild and dry in my neck of the woods. But for sure the weather patterns are changing. This year in particular felt like the weather was swinging back and forth like a pendulum: wet wet wet spring, then months of drought through the summer, then a very warm autumn and early winter, then suddenly snow! And more snow. And more snow.

The changes with arctic ice are still in progress, so I think it's too early to know how it will affect weather patterns around the world. We just know that it sure hasn't been a pleasant year. And the effects of the loss of glaciers that feed the numerous major rivers in Asia haven't hit yet. It's going to be catastrophic.

Switching subjects: You have a metal roof?

Cervantes said...

Right, I'm not predicting future winters. But some climatologists are suggesting this will be the new normal for a while.

No, my roof is mostly asphalt shingle but the sun porch is of course covered in plexi sandwich. I don't know its weight bearing capacity so I figured I'd better clear it.

Drew Hohmann said...

You're right. Snowstorms and tornadoes are everywhere these days, and people will have to make some changes by how they live in order to survive. Roofs must be checked regularly to avoid leaks and damages, while driveways should be dried every now and then. Perhaps these bad weathers are just one of the many effects of global warming.

How's it going for your roof?

@C. Corax: The effects are clear and we're experiencing it now, actually.