Al Gore’s Igloo

This is the fourth installment of my New Year’s pay more attention to the weather resolution.  It was hard to wait until the first of the month, given the summer-like heat Vermont experienced a few weeks ago.  When a late-winter storm hit Washington, DC in 2010 (I was on one of the last planes out of National Airport), Republican Congressional aides built an igloo on the Capitol lawn with a mailbox reading “Al Gore” out front.  Perhaps I should have built a cabana in my front yard with a mailbox reading “Jim Inhofe” out front.

If, as oil companies, Republican senators and presidential candidates claim, global warming is nothing more than a hoax dreamed up by environmentalists to raise money, it’s one hell of a hoax.  On the radio yesterday, the announcer said we were having yet another “red flag day,” meaning that the threat of brush or forest fire was high.  I first heard a red flag warning on March 23.  Late winter and early spring in Vermont are supposed to be exemplified by mud, not fire, but “new normal” are the words on everyone’s lips.  (I really didn’t want this resolution series to be all about global warming either, but these circumstances are beyond my control.)

The winter of 2012 was dry, with neither much snow nor rain falling.  Global warming models call for the northeast to get wetter overall, but also call for precipitation to fall in short, intense bursts, as we saw late last summer with Hurricane Irene.  The US Geological Survey maintains a web site that records the water level in Lake Champlain and because I have a mild case of obsessive-compulsive disorder, I check the lake level every morning.  In March, that level dipped below average for the first time in four and a half years.

The maple syrup season was a bust.  Sugar maples produce sweet sap when temperatures are in the 20s at night and 40s during the day.  The season kicked off early and ended even earlier when warm nights caused the sap to turn “buddy” – or bitter.  Southern Vermont sugarmakers (as they’re known) got about two-thirds of an average crop, northern Vermonters about one-third.  If you like syrup, buy it now, because the price will go up.

Bees in Vermont were doing well through the mild winter, but the warm spell caused them to break the clusters they form to stay warm in the winter.  When the cold returned, many likely did not re-cluster and froze or started using up honey stores at an accelerated rate, trying to stay warm.  Many trees and shrubs budded and then got caught when the cold weather returned.  It’s too early to tell what effect this will have on the apple crop.

I’ll admit I enjoyed the warmth, sort of, walking around in a t-shirt and shorts, sitting on the front porch of an evening, swatting the March mosquitoes.

On March 20, PBS’s news hour broadcast a report on two Texas towns running out of water.  The town of Robert Lee now has to have its water trucked in and is building a million and a half-dollar pipeline to a nearby town, but how long before that town runs dry is a question.  It’s a sobering story, and features Professor Katherine Hayhoe of Texas Tech, who wrote a chapter on global warming for a book by Newt Gingrich, but that chapter was deleted after Rush Limbaugh mocked it.  So that’s the level of seriousness we accord this problem.

In the middle of this, the phrase “instant, endless summer” kept sounding in my head.  I remembered I’d used it as a title for an earlier commentary, but I couldn’t recall exactly when.  I checked; the year was 1998 and the date was May 21, so in 14 years, I’ve moved up by two months.  Put that in your igloo, Jim.

© Mark Floegel, 2012

Final NCAA update: I was 36 of 61 for the whole tournament and picked Kentucky to win the final.  A teenaged girl of my close acquaintance, however, picked 39 of 61, so move over, old people.

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