Talk About the Weather


Remnant parking lot glacier, soon to disappear…

We talk about the weather when we have nothing to say, or perhaps too much to say.

It’s a human obsession — what will the weather be? Will we stay dry? Lose our crops to hail? Thirst in the midst of drought?

Whatever did we do before weather forecasts became as accurate as they are now? (caveat: within about three days, depending on where you live!) We still talked about the weather. We divined it and prepared for it and lived with it. And we still do.

So I’m going to talk about the weather: Monday afternoon, Boulder had temperatures in the high 70s F (26 C or so). That’s amazing. Spring starts officially this Saturday. We’ll get rain this week, and who knows? Possibly some snow!

Last year, the region got hit weekly by snowstorms dumping a foot at a time. With spring weather in between. How crazy-making! I can’t get used to the flip-flops in temperature! What to wear? I want to tuck away my sweaters and warm socks, but I can’t. Thank goodness I have the option of climate control in my apartment, should I need it.

Even more crazy-making: this Monday, several days before the spring equinox, was the earliest hottest day in Boulder’s historic record. As long as humans have been directly measuring daily temperatures, the area has never been this warm before March 16.

Global warming, climate change, shifting climate patterns — I am willing to say probably yes, the earlier and earlier warm days are part of a larger pattern. So, let’s talk about the climate.

I just finished reading Wallace Stegner’s biography of the career of John Wesley Powell. One-armed (he lost it in the Civil War), self-educated (like a lot of men who grew up in what was then the Western Frontier and is now the Midwest), and driven to discover, he took the first scientific party (all white men, though his wife and another wife accompanied part of the first foray, if I recall correctly) down the Grand Canyon. Adventure! And then to the science and politics.

Powell took two surveying trips down the Grand Canyon, and folded those explorations into his work eventually as the head of the US Geological Survey. He noted how arid the West is, fighting against what Stegner called the Gilpins: those who ignored the facts to barrel headlong into their desires to settle the West, a Garden of Eden with adequate rainfall. Not so, as Powell and other scientists of the day well knew. Powell fought in newspapers and in Congress to be heard. He wasn’t. We settled the West without much regard to the actual water resources available, and today our water rights are outrageously complex and bizarre, and our resources scarce.

Soon the West will be scrabbling over water even more; water rights for farmers and the environment are a major point of contention in California, where drought is in its fourth year. (I’m amazed to read that Santa Barbara recently decided to turn on its “mothballed” desalination plant, built for the last California drought that I well recall living through.) Research shows that the American West has had longer and worse droughts, but this one could turn into a “megadrought” — and there’s a good chance the current one is related or at least made worse by human-made climate changes.

So while some pooh-pooh the idea that humans might be warming the planet, or hold up snowballs on the floor of the US Senate as proof that humans are not changing the climate systems of the planet, our weather is slowly changing, a symptom of what’s happening on Earth today.

I could go on and on about this. Just ask me about the weather.

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