I know I am not the first to comment on how strange the weather has gotten over the past few years, but I figured that since today we got snow in a place where snow isn’t really a thing, I would share my personal experiences.
When I was little, we would get several snows in Madrid every year. Halloween was usually even a bit muddy at first, then would freeze as the night wore on. I remember trodding through snow that was over my knees at around 5 years old.
By the time I was in 3rd grade we were in a drought. We all thought it was just part of the cycle, 7 wet years, 7 dry years. But the drought has kept going for more than 15 years. We were lucky if we got one real snow a year. During this time we ended up with an insect in the area that targeted the dry trees. It started with just one species, but nearly wiped them out before moving on to others. We call them trees, but they are what many would call bushes. This increased the fire danger as nearly half of these low trees in the area were dead. Property owners have spent a long time clearing them out.
Madrid has always had difficulties with water. In the mining days they gave up on digging a well after numerous failed attempts. They ended up hauling all of the water needed for the town of about 3000 as well as the massive mining operation by train. Later they were able to successfully find water, but no-one drinks the water. While it is technically drinkable, it smells like rotten eggs and can come out of the tap black from the coal. During the worst years of the drought of the 1990’s and 2000’s, a neighboring down completely drained their well and had to have water for the town hauled in.
This year was wetter, but as I gather it is still not equal to a wet year there, let alone getting close to making up for the past. (Not that we would want that all in one year.) But the water levels in the rivers and lakes have been rising.
In Madrid there is an arroyo (Dry riverbed) that runs through town. In the spring there is the concern of flash floods as the snow melts in the mountains. One time I got to see this massive wall of water tearing down the ravine just out of town. It was probably 20 feet high and moving around 70 mph. Once the water was there it was just a few feet deep and while it was still faster than you would want to swim in, it was considerably slower.
Before I left the state in late 2014 I got to see some of the damage caused in Madrid by a massive flash flood. The main street of town looked unchanged, but as you went along the back roads you could tell that something drastic had happened. At that point the arroyo was a little shallower, but that year it could not contain the massive amount of water rushing through and it cleared an area about 5 times as wide as the arroyo had been. It was difficult to tell exactly where the arroyo used to be, the whole area was so close to the same level.
Many people think that what the desert needs is a lot of rain. And that is true- to an extent. When the ground is as dry as that, getting a lot of water over a short period of time can cause a lot of devastation. What we need is a nice long drizzle for a while. Think of it like a sponge. When it is dry it does not soak up much, but once it is wet it can hold the water better.
When I started visiting my father in Dallas, it was very humid. I was never there during the rainy season, or during the winter, but as I understand it, it rarely got cold enough for snow there. They too have been experiencing a massive drought.
This past year they have had enough rain to bring the lakes up to higher than normal levels, and have had massive flood problems as well. My father has a deep creek in his back yard. Most of the time it in less than a foot deep, but sometimes it can fill all the way to the banks, about 6-7 feet deep and just as wide.
My father has done a lot of work to make sure that the erosion from these events does minimal damage. The creek has a turn just before his driveway, and from many of these incidents, the higher speed water has been carving out a cave beneath the driveway. The garage is several feet higher still from the banks, and sits several hundred feet away. They have had flooding in the garage too.
While that part of Texas is not known for tornadoes, they are not unheard of. This year with the weather unable to make up its mind, there have been many, even at a time of year when they are not normal.
Southern New Mexico
For school I moved to southern New Mexico. The first year that I was there we had a tornado. New Mexico as a whole does not get tornadoes. Occasionally there are some in the north east corner of the state, where it is flatter, but most of the state is too mountainous for tornadoes to form.
The town had no idea what to do. The university locked students out of classrooms, even ones that were essentially basements. These were probably some of the safest places to be. I never saw the funnel, but you could see the sky get dark and the wind get crazy. I left the costume shop for my class, in one of those basements. Since class was cancelled I walked back to my dorm. It was not long before it started hailing. The power went out, which always confuses young people these days. Some people were hiding in their rooms, others were running around being idiots.
After the storm passed, my roommate and I went out to investigate. Nearby there was a sidewalk that went downhill a bit faster than the surrounding terrain and had concrete walls supporting the earth on both sides. This channel had water flowing through it several feet deep. It did not take long for the weather to normalize, but the town was dealing with hail damage for at least a week.
That summer when I went home, the Santa Fe area had no fewer than three tornadoes in one day. I saw one as I drove home. The west part of the sky was a deep black cloud, while the east looked like a clear blue sky.
For the next few years it was uneventful, we never even got snow for the first three years I lived there. The fourth we were thrilled to have a light dusting of snow stick. The next year I moved to a neighboring town on the other side of the mountains. That year we got a foot of snow. It really was not a lot of water, but the intense cold made the snow puff out and take up a lot of room. It was more than 20 degrees below zero, colder than Chicago at the same time. Knowing that people in that area are not used to snow I opted not to drive if I could help it and walked to work.
The area was declared to be in Emergency conditions. No-one had running water, and the gas company shut down the gas lines in most of town. I happened to be working at the only hotel in town that happened to be on the side of the street that did not lose gas. We were sold out as people got desperate for a hot shower. My manager comped herself a room for her family. People in the area would go shopping just to stay warm because the stores sold out of heaters. We were lucky, we had electric heat at my apartment.
But as the temperature started to warm up and the town started to get back to normal, our condition did not improve. Everyone in town was required to wait until the gas company came to re-light pilot lights, so even after the gas was back, people were still in the hotel.
My apartment, like a lot of construction in the area had little insulation on water lines. That area usually does not see freezing temperatures at all. But we had our laundry room outside the main apartment. There was nothing on those pipes at all. I was among the first to discover that one of the water lines burst. They had to turn off the water to all of the buildings because they had not included individual turn-offs for each. After they patched the ones they knew about, they would turn the water back on and find more. I was told that with five individual breaks in my laundry room I had the record.
All of this repair took several weeks. The apartments rented out a couple rooms at the hotel next door to let us shower. People started collecting water from the pool to fill the tank on the toilet so they could flush. After they finally repaired all of the breaks, I let them know that my washing machine had been damaged. I had just purchased a nice front-loading washing machine, and now it sounds like a jet taking off. They had someone come in and ‘fix’ it. It got a little better, but it still makes waaaaay too much noise.
Once it got a bit warmer they started working on installing new turn off valves for each building, so we ended up without water quite a bit in the next few months.
After spending so much of my life in the desert I decided to move to a wet place. When we first moved to the northwest it was so green. More shades of green than I had seen in years. Last winter was very mild, and from what I gather, normal. This past summer though, we had a drought. I keep joking that I brought the desert with me. Of course to my family the amount of rain we have seen is a lot, but compared to normal here, it is no-where near high enough.
There were wildfires here, something that I grew up dealing with, but thought I was getting away from. Over the summer when I would look at the grass so brown it looked like I was in New Mexico again.
This winter has been colder than the last, with less precipitation. But the mountains have gotten quite a bit of snow and the passes have had to close several times. The other day I was told that last year an area that did not open last winter because it was too warm was closed this year because of too much snow.
The other day we noticed snow in the area, but it did not stick, save for one small patch on the pavement. Today it started to stick. In a few hours we had enough to make it look white out there. It stopped snowing, and the temperature got above freezing, so now it is not white, just wet and probably turning to ice.
In comparison to some of the extreme weather events we have started to see over the past few years, my experience is nothing. So why do I even talk about it? Because those extreme events are not the only strangeness going on. Just because those are the things that make the news does not mean that other than that things are normal. We need to understand that there are a lot more changes going on than most people recognize. Whether you believe that humans are the cause of climate change or not, things are changing. We cannot deny it when it is happening right before our eyes.
Things are changing faster than the early climate scientists predicted. Many scientists today hesitate to even reveal the true extent of what their research shows because they know that people have a hard time believing what is out there already. Most of the world agrees that humans are the cause and humans need to do something about it. The United States is doing a lot to block these efforts.
Why would the people in power do that? Money. Current companies do not want to loose their existing investments and are spending money lobbying politicians to protect their interests. That money would be better, and more efficiently, spent if they turned to establishing themselves in renewable energy instead of fossil fuel.
I do not understand what people think that the scientists motivation to lie about this would be. They have nothing to gain by taking on this type of company.
The current goals agreed upon internationally are woefully under-ambitious. There are numerous examples of nations that are making the commitment to move ahead and are making rapid progress towards that goal. The United States is putting up blocks on these international agreements to avoid any obligation themselves. Our internal goals are pitiful. They will hardly start to make any difference by the time that we have reached the point of no return.