Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Weird Weather

June 7, 2011.

I thought I heard the rain again outside my window. Cold. Damp. Dreary. Yes, it has rained in June in the Central Valley from time to time in the many years I've lived here, though the incidents are rare and the amount of rain is usually slight.

But despite the constant official cries of "drought!", this part of California has actually been in an extended wet spell. As I noted some time back, it's as if this section of the state had been bodily moved a thousand miles north. This is Seattle weather. No, it's British Columbia-southern Alaska weather.

It's not just the frequency of rain, it's the continued low temperatures (well, for here, anyway, in the 50's and 60's) and the sense that it's not going to stop.

I was in the backyard yesterday, "puttering" as they say. Well, we've had some work done over the last couple of years or so -- some trees cut down and heavily cut back, a new fence put up, the exterior of the house painted, and I've been working on landscaping the back, something that couldn't be done when it was lost in the shade of bushes that had been planted when the house was new (1940) and had been left to become huge trees. Nothing would grow back there but the rankest weeds. So for years, we essentially just left it. Once the trees were cut down, suddenly the possibilities of actual landscaping were opened up, and I've been planting lawn, flowers, making paths and sitting areas, etc, having a grand time really. But yesterday I was pulling ivy and some other vining plant off the house. The east and south side of the house were becoming buried in vinage after less than a year since the house was painted. There's been English ivy in the back since we've been here, but it has never almost covered over the house like this. And the other vine (I'm not sure what it is) has been here for a quite a while, but never grown to this extent nor has it ever come this close to entirely covering the whole east side of the house.

As I was pulling this stuff down, I noticed how extraordinarily lush the foliage was. The leaves are broad and dark, glossy green, and there are new shoots all over the place. It's been less than a year since the ivy and vines that were on the house before were pulled down to paint the place, and they've all grown back and much, much more besides.

This can only be attributed to the rains, rains, and more rains. The other trees and plants in the back have also grown remarkably in the past year, even in the last couple of weeks. And it is raining again today.

Yet this is the Dry Season. Things should be turning golden and brown and brittle. That's the course of life for the native plants around here. Come May, they're drying up, and by June they are completely dry. There would ordinarily be no rain in the summer at all, and relatively frequent irrigation is necessary just to keep a lawn alive, non-native plants green, and flowers blooming. But we're used to it, know how it goes, and we're adapted to water conservation (after all, we've been in a "drought" for years now -- just recently declared "over.")

This year? Hardly had to turn the hose on at all. Rain is that frequent. And the green stuff has responded to the rains gleefully and spectacularly.

The reason for the change in the weather is said to be warmer temperatures in the Arctic Ocean which have resulted in much less ice cover and less enduring sea ice which in turn has caused the cold weather patterns that typically circle the north pole to wander southward through Siberia and North America, looping down over the Pacific and drenching California again and again. It is said to be an active demonstration of the consequences of Global Warming.

So far, for this part of California, it is A Year Without A Summer. That will likely change, of course, and we will be in searing heat and dryness. But not till July, maybe even August. You never know anymore.

The irony here is that though the current weather pattern in these parts is thought to be a factor of Global Warming, even though it's cold and wet, these are the conditions that can lead, in due time -- and not a long time, either -- to an Ice Age. It was recognized back in the 1950's that Ice Ages in the Northern Hemisphere depend on warmer ocean temperatures in the Arctic which were thought to be due to changing Gulf Stream flows.

The illustration below, taken from American Heritage magazine, April 1960, explains how Maurice Ewing and William Donn thought it worked back in the day. In other words, "warming" leads to ice.

What fun.

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