Hot and sunny this Friday afternoon in Central Florida as I begin to write this week’s earthweal challenge—nothing unusual about that, it’s probably been this way here in July for the past 10,000 years. Nor is there anything much different about hurricane Isaias working its way up from the Bahamas right now just barely at Cat 1 strength. Forecast now is that it will brush Florida’s eastern coast but stay offshore and spiral slowly north, probably coming ashore in North Carolina.
All of that seems pretty normal for right about now, although other weirdness is leaking into the mix and changing the picture. Saharan dust high in the atmosphere (blown this way thanks to mid-Saharan drought) along with wind shear is making Isaias’ spiral progress more labored.
Probably won’t be much, but then a heating ocean and more moisture in the air means more powerful storms, heavier rainfall events—and much more of the unexpected. Noah Shannon writes in the Climate Issue of the July 22 New York Times Magazine,
Since 1989, the number of storms with winds topping 155 m.p.h.—the speed at which wind starts to tear walls from building—has tripled; over the last few years, parts of India and the American South have flooded, with anywhere from 275 to 500 percent more rain than usual. In the oceans, where there is now 5 percent more water aloft than there was in the middle of the last century, the odds of a storm spinning into a major hurricane have shot up substantially in the last 40 years.
Last year Hurricane Dorian came up much the same path toward Florida but parked next to the Bahamas at Cat 5 strength. The year before, Hurricane Michael barreled up the Gulf while intensifying from tropic wave to Cat 5 in just 36 hours. They are still rebuilding the Panhandle after taking a direct hit. The monsoon season this year has flooded a third of Bangladesh, and the Yangtze River in China is seeing its worst flooding in decades, threatening the Three Gorges Dam and livelihood of millions.
Storms are also breaking weather patterns by straying out of season and latitudes. Although the Atlantic hurricane season has been set between June and October, last year the first tropical system formed on May 20 and the last one on Nov. 24. (This year, Tropical Storm Arthur formed on May 16.) Cyclone Idai struck the Mozambique coast late in the Pacific cyclone season in March 2019, six weeks later when Cyclone Kenneth struck Mozambique, evacuation routes were still choked from the previous weirdly late storm. Some forecasters now believe Category 6 storms are now possible due to the changed climate.
Extreme weather is also more difficult to predict. Shannon writes,
The chaos wrought by climate change requires radically rethinking some of meteorology’s core concepts. As a disciple, meteorology is based on the idea that the climate is a constant; within each year, season or day, only a certain number and range of variable weather events are possible. But because that constant has become a variable, (severe weather expert Steve) Nesbitt thinks the field needs to take a big step back and begin again with the basics: close observations of how storms develop and behave. “We thought we knew how the climate and weather operated,” he told me. “But not we have to think more like astronomers—like we don’t know what’s out there.”
Strange new world. As coastlines submerge, maps are becoming fast outdated. The virus spreads, taking advantage of every doubt and equivocation and weariness expressed by leaders or the populace. A map of projected inundations by 2050 is curiously akin to a map of projected infection in the United State two months from now. Governments don’t seem to be able to respond sufficiently to either, nor do citizens of this century.
We have more advanced tools than ever but we’re less decided the tidings they bring. The weather darkens and threatens but we don’t know or can’t comprehend what’s coming. We should be prepared but we don’t seem to want to accept the reality that demands. Millions are on the move now due to climate change but there isn’t really any place for them to go. The rising tide of those faces is all but invisible to the commercial consumer world most of us inhabit. What do disconnects like these bode for us and the century now unfolding?
Our solid sense of reality has been disrupted, and what we’re left with doesn’t behave normally. The mind which assembled words for this post is more aged and dicey, less focused and reluctant to summon orders which used to come easy. Am I going mad or is the world?
And despite all these challenges, most hunker down into the safe and known, tried and true solutions which ceased being so some time ago. It may be more the 1950s now than ever as we repeat the ghostly patterns of assurance and solidity.
But who’s the ghost now in this strange new world?
STRANGE WORLD is the theme of this challenge. Take the opportunity to assess what’s become so strange in your world, be it climate or politics or culture or dreams. Are the tools of observation changing from the weather forecaster’s reliance on past data to the weirdness of astronomy—discovering new unknowns?
As I finish this challenge on Sunday, Isaias weakened overnight and now is a disorganized tropical storm brushing the Florida coast. The hot ocean which has witched up such wicked storms recently was countered by Saharan dust from hot dry weather elsewhere. We’ll feel some breezes later today, maybe a few rain bands: The opposite extreme of the extreme we were fearing. In a strange world, sometimes it goes that way, madly still instead of violently rending. They are both faces of the same time.
What’s strange in your world/country/city/home/backyard/forest/ocean/head/heart today?