Sunday, February 21, 2010

On Our Wacky Weather, Or, Did The Olympic Torch Stop In Oklahoma?

As most of you are well aware, last week was a snow week in Washington, DC, and the odds are pretty good that there's something like that going on for you as well.

Our good friends in the conservative community have seized upon the moment as proof that this whole "global warming" thing is just a big scam perpetrated by the likes of Al Gore and his Legion Of Weather Nazis; their mission being only to deprive the American people of their Constitutional right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of a Ford Super Duty F-450 King Ranch Edition with the Heavy Service Suspension Package, Snow Plow Prep Package, Transmission Power Take-Off Provision, dual alternators, and supplemental cab heater.

To drive the point home, last week Senator James Inhofe's family went to the time and trouble to build a little igloo on the National Mall for our amusement.

But here's a question: just what has the weather been like in other places--for example, in my part of the world...or in the Senator's home State of Oklahoma?

It's a good question--and the Senator won't like the answer.

What's Up With The Olympics?

"As I said on the Senate floor on July 28, 2003, "much of the debate over global warming is predicated on fear, rather than science." I called the threat of catastrophic global warming the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," a statement that, to put it mildly, was not viewed kindly by environmental extremists and their elitist organizations..."

--Senator James Inhofe, January 4, 2005

Are you watching skiing and boarding events at the Olympics this week?

If you are, you're probably hearing about the difficult conditions, which are affecting operations to the point that, even as I'm writing this, events are being postponed in order to work around the conditions.

Basically what's happening is that lots of snow is falling on the upper portions of the Whistler Mountain complex, but at lower altitudes temperatures just above freezing are causing that same moisture to fall as rain, which turns snow to slush, or to hang in the air as fog, which is making it hard to judge ski performances and for competitors to see the runs.

Cypress Mountain Resort, the location of the Freestyle Skiing and Snowboard events, is also located at a relatively low altitude, with the result being similarly choppy conditions.

(It's predicted that a high pressure front currently moving up the West Coast will cause clear and cold nights for the next few days, freezing--and thereby preserving--the snowpack each evening. My guess: this won't improve conditions on the lower portions of the mountains; instead, expect the already rain-soaked and "concrete-like" snow to develop a gnarly crust of ice as it remelts and refreezes over each of the next several 24-hour cycles.)

"Would You Like To See The Video?"

This is much different than the weather last year--and I would know, as I live just about 200 miles south of the Olympic venues, in the foothills of the same mountains that wind their way along the North American Pacific Coast until they eventually find their way up to Alaska's Denali National Park.

This time last year I was shoveling snow every day, and the sides of my driveway had snow walls four feet high. This year, absolutely no snow at all.

Snoqualmie Pass, the local ski area, is about 25 miles farther east and about 2000 feet higher in altitude than my house, and I have some video that will help illustrate the difference between this year and normal years.

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) reports that only 171 inches of snow have fallen at the Pass through January 31st of this year, which is only about 40% of the five-year average.

Here's a WSDOT video that shows snow removal operations on the Pass. Pay attention to how much snow is on the roads, on the trees, and in the traffic median:

I was on the same road last Saturday, and in the beginning of the next video I want you to note that there is no new snow on the trees, and that there's also virtually no snow along the "Jersey barriers" on the side of the road. Near the end of the video the orange snow poles in the Pass' residential areas are only halfway buried, which is certainly not normal for this time of the year.

Here's another example of how unusual the weather has been: there are two routes that can get you between the Eastern Washington cities of Ellensburg and Yakima. One of them is US 97/I-82 (the freeway), the other is State Route (SR) 821, also known as the Canyon Road (the more twisty and turn-y, and therefore more fun, route).

For a variety of reasons related to local and regional geography Eastern Washington is colder than Western Washington, and this time of the year you'd expect the Canyon Road to have some combination of snow, slush, ice, or all of the above on the road, as well as some considerable accumulation of snow and ice on the canyon walls.

In other words...adventure driving.

In the next video you can see what the road looked like last Saturday. You'll see virtually no snow at all in the canyon, and lots of exposed basalt and brown grass.

(Fun Fact: basalt is associated with volcanic activity, which means pretty much everything you're seeing in this video was a part of one of the world's largest known and fastest flowing lava flows.)

(The blurring in the video is caused by rain on the lens.)

"Build An Igloo...That'll Distract "Em"

So that's how things are in the Pacific Northwest...but what about Oklahoma?

dust bowl.jpg

Oklahoma is a place with a drought history, and the worst times in that history were the 1930s, a time when conditions were so severe that the entire region (including parts of Texas, Colorado, Kansas, and other states besides) was known as the "Dust Bowl". The combination of poor farming practices and a four-year reduction in rain of about 25% caused more than 100 million acres of land to lose its topsoil, creating dust storms of legendary proportions.

"...Houses were shut tight, and cloth wedged around doors and windows, but the dust came in so thinly that it could not be seen in the air, and it settled like pollen on the chairs and tables, on the dishes..."

--John Steinbeck, "The Grapes of Wrath"

There is a new twist in that history playing out today: the same parts of Oklahoma that suffered the most damage in the 1930s are seeing "rainfall deficits" so severe in recent years that Senator Inhofe personally sent a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture in July of 2008 asking for...wait for it...well, you know what?

Let's let Senator Inhofe tell you what the letter said, courtesy of his own official Senate website:

"On Thursday, July 18, 2008, Senator Jim Inhofe welcomed Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer's announcement of an agricultural disaster designation for Cimarron, Texas, Beaver, Harper, Woodward, Ellis, Roger Mills, Dewey and Woods counties in Northwestern Oklahoma. Senator Inhofe, Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Congressman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer in support of an agriculture disaster designation on July 3, 2008..."

Now here's the twist: according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who is responsible for knowing this stuff, there's been a recent alteration in the pattern of weather in the Midwest...a "climate change", if you will.

Normally you plant a crop in the spring, and you hope that you'll get enough rain to get that crop spouted and thriving; the idea being to have corn "as high as an elephant's eye", to give just one example.

What's been happening in the 21st Century is that the spring rains, in certain areas, were far less than expected, with an excess of rain falling at the end of the season. Some places were 70% or more below their normal rainfall amounts until significant amounts of rain began falling in July and August.

"This old dust storm it's a kickin' up cinders, this old dust storm cuttin' down my wheat, this old dust storm it pushed my shack down, but it didn't get me, girl, it can't stop me."

--Woody Guthrie, "Dust Can't Kill Me"

This is not good: if you're trying to grow grasses (including wheat or barley), the crops will have a hard time getting established (and they also don't harvest well if it's raining at harvest time); if it's corn or soybeans or something similar you're growing, those crops will yield a smaller number of smaller things like soybeans or ears of corn.

That means you need more and more irrigation and fertilizer to reap harvests of the same or smaller yields--which is putting even more pressure on farmers who were already struggling just to get by.

And in fact, the entire State of Oklahoma--not just the drought areas--is feeling the effects, with yields for many crops declining again in 2009, even compared to some very tough 2008 numbers.

NASA reports that from August of 2007 until August of 2008 the Oklahoma Panhandle experienced its driest weather since 1921, and you can see the impact on vegetation, thanks to the Terra satellite's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer.

And did I mention that parts of Oklahoma have been a bit warm lately?

If we look at the weather charts for Gage, Oklahoma (which is located just to the right of the Panhandle, and within the "disaster area"), from 2005 until today we see that 2006, 2008, and 2009 were all warmer than normal. 2010 has already been a warmer than average year, although not as much as 2006, 2007, 2008, or 2009.

So...add all this up, and what do you get?

Here's what: a Senator who denies that there is such a thing as "climate change" has the in-laws building an igloo on the National a time when the city should be preparing for the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

Meanwhile, the Olympics are impacted by unusually low amounts of snowfall--and the Senator himself has recently been asking for emergency relief for his home State...because of a disastrous change in climate.

Of course, if I had to go out and explain to farmers in Cimarron County that there is no weather problem, and then promise to ask for aid for that weather problem, both at the same time, I might decide that hiding in my igloo was the smart move as well--and if he can keep it up just a bit longer, he may actually beat out Scott Brown for the tile of "First Truckin' Senator In History To Ever Traverse An Ice Road Up Denial"...which, as everyone knows, is not just a River in Egypt.

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