Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Earth to North Coast

This is as close to a snow scene as we've had in Arcata, but
it's after a hail storm this past week. BK photo.
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Cold and Quake: A Wake-Up Call?

In a relatively isolated, largely rural area, natural forces are seldom out of the news. Right now they're dominating. Like the rest of the country, we had an unusual January--in our case, it was sunnier, drier and warmer than usual. (Nationally it was the hottest January on record.) And like much of the rest of the country, our February has been much different: wetter (bringing rainfall to about double the average for the year to date) and colder (45 was the high in Arcata yesterday, and that's unusual).

The hail storm the other afternoon was also pretty unusual, in that it gave Arcata streets that winter wonderland appearance for a half hour or so. I was out in it, standing under the shelter of a tree for awhile on H Street towards Northtown, and saw one young woman dash out of her house to snap a photo, and a couple of kids trying desperately to make "snowballs" and throw them before the whole thing disappeared. I got home just in time to take a few photos myself. There was still a remnant of white on the ground when a hummingbird came by the feeder.

Snow and storms in the mountains have been a big problem. Some of the few roads that connect us with the outside world have been closed because of snow or slides. One storm knocked out power to a transmitter on Horse Mountain for the local ABC affiliate for days. Suddenlink, our new cable company, got the ABC feed in time for the Oscars Sunday, which explained the patches of black screens and silence where local ads would normally go.

In terms of the Big Picture, weather is naturally variable and there are trends that play themselves out for a series of years, but despite locally active Climate Crisis deniers, global heating is clearly changing weather patterns. As to near-term effects, the devil can be in the details. For instance, our total rainfall is about normal since July, but we've been experiencing different winter patterns for several years now, with the rain that used to fall over several months coming later and more intensively. That's bound to have an effect on life in the rivers, forests and fields, as has been seen elsewhere when, for example, the balance between predator and prey species has been upset, and migrating birds or birds hatching chicks at a certain time of year aren't finding the food they normally do, because the weather has altered insect cycles. And as the climate has grown warmer, some species expand into new areas, creating various kinds of havoc. All this can eventually affect us--food and water supply, behavior of wildlife, etc. I hope our scientists are monitoring this here. Anticipating the possibility of problems might help the area cope with effects, instead of being completely blindsided by them.

Earth sent another reminder Monday morning with a 5.4 magnitude earthquake about 35 miles off the coast and south of here, at 4:19 AM. I was still awake at the time, sitting right here at the computer, and Pema the cat had just come by to find out why. The ripple went right under us, and Pema lost her footing for a second. No damage was reported anyway, due to the distance of the quake from land--5.4 is in the "moderate" range, so it could have done some damage otherwise.

There was an all-day earthquake prepardedness drill at HSU a few weeks ago, which in itself was a step forward, although the only local newspaper that said a word about it--the HSU student newspaper, the Lumberjack--opined that it wasn't well organized, didn't involve enough people and was generally taken too casually. At one point a Coast Guard helicopter landed on the HSU soccer field. I happened to be in the vicinity when it did. I watched as the two people inside stood and looked towards where an ambulance and a knot of people were, but if there was supposed to be a practice run of stretchers or whatever, none happened while I was there. HSU President Richmond came by where I was standing, then went down closer to the field. I saw a lot of nodding but that's all. I walked away and a few seconds later, the helicopter was in the air again.

I'll say it again: for a place that has earthquakes and storms, there's no excuse for the apparently cavalier attitude towards prepardeness here. And when we get to really sustained and complicated crises like a pandemic, a well-constructed plan that everyone in the community understands could be the difference between life and death for hundreds and maybe thousands. But apparently this isn't interesting enough for media to hone in on it, or important enough for the public and public officials to give it priority.
This also started out as hail but McKinleyville got a couple of inches of snow Monday. (Eureka Times-Standard photo.) There's been a foot or more of snow in the hills nearby.
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