California: Building an ARK

I have always been fascinated by weather. The atmosphere we experience brings the physics of the cosmos up close and personal and into our daily lives, for good or ill. And climate is just weather writ large, over more geography and across decades and kiloyears.

But as humans whose experience of climate spans such an eye-blink tiny window into planetary variability, we tend to lose sight of the wild extremes that fall well out of the bounds of extremes, even in our own age’s bizarro fluctuations between hot and cold, wet and dry.

And so I was fascinated to learn of yet another climate debacle to look forward to–if not in our own Boomer lives, within the lives of our grandchildren, or theirs: And that is the MegaFlood inevitably to soak California. It could be worse by far than the “recent” event there called the Great Flood of 1861-1862.

That year it rained every day for more than a month–in ten weeks, a total of 32 inches.

Some interesting facts gleaned from The Biblical Flood That Will Drown California — Mother Jones .

Said superstorm has been given a name by the USGS: The ARKstorm. The name is taken from the Atmospheric River that every 1K years creates an inland sea over the valley system of California.

You might have heard weathermen refer to this river as the regularly-occuring “Pineapple Express.” Moisture from the southern Pacific trains over the state in limited (drought years), moderate (normal years) or excessive (flood years) basis. And as you might have guessed, the warmer the water, the more intense the overhead “rivers” are becoming. Also the mix of this moisture is shifting from mostly snow (slow-release) to mostly rain–with nowhere to go.

The ARKstorm should come as NO surprise. It’s happened many times before, but not on the scale of human lifetimes.

We’ve long been aware of the hyperbolic possibility of CA ripping in two and the Left Coast falling into the sea. That Big Quske would be catastrophically expensive–some $200 billion. (Katrina, by comparison costs some $166B.) The ARKflood is projected to cost $725B. Consider:

Today, the Central Valley houses nearly 4 million beef and dairy cows.

Today the valley is increasingly given over to intensive almond, pistachio, and grape plantations, representing billions of dollars of investments in crops that take years to establish, are expected to flourish for decades, and could be wiped out by a flood.

Kern county is one of the nation’s most prodigious oil-producing counties. Its vast array of pump jacks, many of them located in farm fields, produce 70 percent of California’s entire oil output. It’s also home to two large oil refineries.

Mother Jones

And so put it all together, imagining the valleys of California being under between 10 and 20 feet of water with today’s vastly higher population of people, cattle, fruits and vegetable and toxic chemicals, what a nasty soup that will be.

As if we needed more dread in our lives, we do need to be aware of our own powerlessness to change the weather, having already altered the climate. And at this point, there’s no putting Humpty Dumpty back together again in our brief individual lifetimes.

But maybe future generations will have the courage to trust each other, trust the science of climate, take the long view of the future with regard to The Big One—fire, flood, earthquake, volcano, drought, hurricane, pandemic. These inevitabilities should never be off the planning table, regardless of which party is in office. Our boat is so small, and the planet, the future and nature are so wide!

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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