John Wheeler Column: Climate occasionally gets caught in a rut
Three to 5 inches of rain fell on Fargo-Moorhead a week ago this morning. Around a foot fell on the boggy country near Roseau and Warroad. The news this week has been filled with stories of cars stalled in streets, farms surrounded by water, road...
Three to 5 inches of rain fell on Fargo-Moorhead a week ago this morning. Around a foot fell on the boggy country near Roseau and Warroad.
The news this week has been filled with stories of cars stalled in streets, farms surrounded by water, roads washed out, and volunteers stacking sandbags. It's big news.
It's also familiar. In as much as it is possible for disaster to become routine, this sort of thing has been happening a lot lately.
A few years ago, such a rain would have been called a 100- or 500-year flood. We do not use such terms seriously today. One small region can only have so many hundred year floods within a 10-year period until the term becomes a joke.
We have about 120 years of weather recorded for Fargo-Moorhead. To presume that these 120 years are representative of all time is way out of line. Climate is known to be ever-changing. We get colder, drier, warmer, and wetter with very little regularity. Our climate is not linear. It does not average out over time.
It does, however, get stuck in a groove from time to time. One such groove was the in the 1930s, otherwise known as the Dust Bowl. Huge areas of the United States endured scorching summer temperatures and very little rain for 10 of the 12 years from 1929 through 1941. Today, most people think of the Dust Bowl as a blip in time, a freak abnormality. But for those who lived it, those were 12 years in which the summers were almost always hot and dry. Hot and dry became normal. Within the context of the Dust Bowl, a nice rain became an unusual weather event.
Since 1993, we have had the same sort of thing going, or actually its polar opposite. The hard part if recognizing it. Throw away the long-term averages. Forget about the 100-year floods and 500-year floods. We should expect that every summer, some part of the Red River Valley will have a disastrous flood and there is nothing we can do to stop it.
We can, however, work together to diminish the devastation. City leaders in Fargo and Moorhead are working hard on a variety of projects every summer to limit the damage from floods. There are more lift stations, bigger pipes, and better back-up support. However, the Red River Valley remains almost as flat as plywood. The river only goes downhill so fast. With each 5- or 10-inch rain we get, there will be more flooding and there is nothing we can do about that ...
... Except wait for the wet pattern to end.