The gospel according to the National Weather Service
It has been a week of biblical proportions. Don’t take my word for it, just ask the National Weather Service. The only things missing were vermin and locusts.
For me, the week started with long days knocking on doors in Colorado Springs and Pueblo fighting the efforts to recall State Senators Angela Giron and John Morse. You know how that worked out.
Giron and Morse were two of the biggest conservation champions in the state Legislature. Their work to expand renewable energy in Colorado, fight off ridiculous anti-environment and regulation bills and tackle tough issues like climate change is going to be sorely missed.
I drove home Tuesday in the rain, went to dinner in the rain and furiously refreshed my Twitter feed while wiping raindrops off my iPhone screen. After yelling at my phone and assuming the election results on the internet were totally wrong, I went to sleep while it rained outside my window.
Wednesday, it was raining when I woke up and as I went to bed that night shit started to get crazy. For the first time I can remember, the beep, beep, beeping of an emergency signal was in fact not a test. I fell asleep with the TV on and woke up early to the sound of more flash flood warnings, never ending displays of radar, weather reporters in slickers and boots and The Today Show reporting on our weather. Not just Al Roker throwing it to the local affiliate to tell me what was happening “in my neck of the woods,” but Al himself explaining the torrential downpours and flooding hitting my home state. Even god got in on the story when the National Weather Service described Thursday’s rains as “biblical”.
You’ve heard the stats. Colorado is a dry state. On average we see 15 inches of precipitation each year. We do not get it all at once, and we usually do not get so much of it in the form of rain. If this week’s rains were a snow storm, we would all be doing some major cardio while shoveling eight to ten FEET of snow from our driveways. I would have killed for a snow day like that as a kid (surely school would be closed for a week right?). But flood days? In Colorado? Who ever heard of such a thing? After one of the driest summers on record, watching this devastation has been gut-wrenching, and puzzling. September is on average one of our driest and sunniest month. September here usually means blue skies, terrific hikes through aspen groves and camping in nighttime temperatures just cold enough to warrant a 21st century sleeping bag.
So, no, this week has not been typical.
As I write this, three people are dead, others are missing, and scores of Coloradans are displaced and waiting to be rescued by the National Guard. This is being called a 100-year flood (maybe a 500-year flood). But, as the water nerd in me well knows, it’s really not that easy to say this will only happen once every hundred years. Those figures are based on the probability of a flood like this happening, but we really don’t have enough data to know exactly what the probability of this is. Speaking of data, it may strike you as more than a little worrisome that the stream gauges maintained by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) – the measurements that provide real-time data to water managers, emergency service agencies and local governments to inform decision making and no doubt save lives — are among many federal programs headed for the chopping block of sequester.
For as much as we complain about drought conditions here, Colorado is not supposed to get this kind of rain. Not in September. Not at all. Yet here we are, knee deep in not-supposed-to. We keep shrugging off “historic” weather events as just that, historic. Could it be more? Could these monster storms be an indicator of our impact on climate? Probably. But here we sit on the flooded sidelines, failing to act on climate.
As a campaigner, I learned early that money is a great motivator for personal action and change. In the multi-BILLION dollar wake of Hurricane Sandy, in the aftermath of massive wildfires here in Colorado and across the West, and now facing what’s sure to be a very expensive clean up from these floods, how can we do nothing about what most scientists agree is the root cause? What is the ultimate cost that will trigger action? Have we hit it and blown past it while denying that there is any reason to be worried? My basement’s dry and pets accounted for, my friends along the Front Range are soggy but not too much worse for the wear. I feel incredibly lucky. Still, I’m freaked about what happened this week and what will rain or burn us out in the next natural catastrophe or “Act of God,” as insurance companies like to put it.
Both as a devout heathen and someone who follows issues of weather and rain, I cringed yesterday when the National Weather Service described Colorado’s storm as “biblical.” That description bummed me out in the same pit in my stomach where I’m still digesting news of Tuesday’s recalls.
But then it dawned on me. I saw the light. We should embrace the biblical terminology and hope that our friends in the conservative community will have an easier time recognizing the climate change that’s flooding their cellars and leaking through their roofs if they see it in scriptural terms.
Last month the League of Conservation Voters ran an ad campaign across the nation about our friendly local climate deniers. If you missed it, it’s here.
As the ads point out, the best and brightest scientific minds are preoccupied by extreme weather events, yet the Flat Earth Society continues to deny, deny, deny. Flat earthers who’ve been elected to Congress hold press conferences at disaster areas and promise to snag emergency funding, yet keep insisting “there’s nothing to see here” in the larger picture. Just this week, writing in The Denver Post, right-wing pundit Mike Rosen criticized the LCV ads and tried to argue that the fight against climate is being blindly waged by activists, entrepreneurs and scientists hungry to snag climate change research grants.
Yes, Mike, we’re all in this for that sweet, plentiful climate-change money that falls from heaven in golden coins. With all this climate-change cash weighing down our pockets, who cares about the flood victims, the folks whose homes burned or livestock blew away in a tornado? Right Mike? Let’s just leave it to god to part the waters.
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