After the Deluge

I woke up this morning thinking about weather, the day-to-day cycles the planet throws our way in the immediate present.

I’m not talking here about climate, the long rhythms of our atmosphere, the ones the scientists are now certain are changing. I’m talking about what’s happening out my window right now.

It’s just now turned summer where we are in the northern hemisphere, and the weather I grew up with fifty years ago seems to have changed. Back then I remember June was cool and dry. July was moist, one of the wettest months of the year, and August was hot, dry, and humid. September was the transition zone into fall with cooler days and continuing storms. We had four distinct seasons back in the good old days. Now weather seems to dictate just two-hot and dry and not so hot and dry.

When it rained in the old summer days mostly it came in the form of late evening thunder boomers, or we’d have days of torrential rains brought our way by tropical storms. I don’t remember deep droughts, but I admit I don’t remember everything.

Now I live in a perpetual sense that things are changing, and I feel I can see it in the weather. I notice that the peaches are smaller this year. Is that because the year has been so dry? It could be the hype that the news gives it, and it could be the types of reading I do (lots of science books and articles), but it seems I live in a time of change, and with change comes loss.

I’m a poet so I worry about change and loss, and I mourn for weather patterns of the past to reappear. On a dry dusty day last week I told Betsy that in order to get our childhood weather back we might have to move to Maine.

We humans have such a hard time seeing anything in perspective. Our view is usually short-term, and egocentric. I know this, but I still I quote Bob Dylan and say that it doesn’t take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

And just when I start to worry about the weather the most, something historic will happen, something catastrophic. Last week the worst Midwest flooding in 15 years passed down the Mississippi River. The deluge, and the storms that brought the torrential rains, have left 24 dead and billions of dollars in damage. More than 40,000 people have been displaced, most of them in Iowa.
Highways have been washed away, bridges washed out, factories shuttered, water supplies spoiled, and small businesses closed.

Five million acres of corn and soybeans could have been lost in the fertile U.S. corn belt.

I was given an unexpected personal connection to these epic floods. My wife Betsy was supposed to fly to Chicago for a weekend with college friends. They were to meet up with our son Rob’s band, on its first Midwestern tour, in the suburbs of Chicago. By Thursday evening Betsy’s friend Deb looked like she might be stuck by rising water in Iowa City, and Rob’s band, The Belleville Outfit, was playing to a small crowd in a sandbagged club along the river in Des Moines, Iowa, uncertain if they would make it to Chicago.

Friday morning Betsy decided to stay home as the chances of Deb leaving flooded Iowa diminished. We tracked the band with cell phone calls as they drove 600 miles north to cross the flooding rivers, and made their Chicago date.

In contrast, here in the South Carolina upcountry another summer of exceptional drought stretches before me. Last night a storm moved through and dropped a half-inch of rain. It was the first significant rain this month. The creeks and rivers are already at record lows, breaking the marks set last summer in the dry heat of August.

It’s not a good idea to draw hasty conclusions from my local poet’s account. It might not take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, but it takes a climatologist to track vast changes planet-wide. How do these Midwestern storms and our extreme drought fit into the big picture? All I know is we need more rain.

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