Friday, December 14, 2012

Vapor River Irony

Whenever a TV station in my area fails to show the weather for Durham, NC, where I live, but shows it for nearby Raleigh, it is almost always a sign that the sensor used is in neither city but at the jointly-owned airport located midway between Durham and Raleigh in Morrisville, NC.

In most cases, I realize that someone was probably tripped up by the dateline (merely the location from which the forecaster was working) used by National Weather Service’s central North Carolina office.

Of course, with numerous other weather services now available, including those that glean information at the neighborhood level such as the station I maintain for mine in Rockwood, cities and towns have been able to reclaim one more aspect of their identities.

Barrett Smith, one of the forecasters for this part of North Carolina, has written about the rivers of atmospheric vapor that were identified in 1998.  These rivers are 250 miles wide and travel about a mile high (about the height of Mount McKinley as seen from sea level in Anchorage, where I lived in the 1980s).

Vapor rivers carry as much water as 10-15 Mississippi Rivers.  Usually they impact the west coasts of continents, but one is now thought to have come up from the Gulf of Mexico to flood Nashville and other areas of Tennessee and Kentucky nearly three years ago.

My personal experience with one of these vapor rivers was while I was living during November 1967 along the mountains overlooking Los Angeles.  A vapor river trying to lift up and over the San Gabriels dumped nearly nine inches of rain within a few weeks.

It felt like someone dumped a couple of Mississippi Rivers’ worth of water directly on my neighborhood back then, and it is possible that forty-three years later North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains saved my adopted home from the same fate as Nashville.

Climate change is sure to make vapor rivers more erratic and it is possible one may slip up the eastern side of the Appalachians to North Carolina at some time.  Unfortunately, even then it is unlikely to phase climate-change deniers.

Rising sea levels could inundate the coastal plain one day, turning that third of North Carolina’s geography, including Raleigh, into a “Doggerland,” recasting my hometown Durham as a coastal resort town and still, according to George Marshall, climate-change deniers would grow only more stubborn.

Marshall is the author of a humorous book entitled Carbon Detox, that makes climate change easy to understandHe also blogs at Climate Change Denial, where he recently explained why climate disasters probably won’t influence the mind of anyone who doesn’t already have an open mind.

We human beings are horrible at detecting subtle environmental changes, and are becoming gradually inured even to less subtle changes such as blight and pollution.  It may take much more than being inundated by 15 Mississippi Rivers for some groups to open their minds to information.

I’m not persuaded that even a concern for future generations can unstick the stubbornness exhibited by climate-change deniers.  Maybe it will take another flood of biblical proportions such as the one created in Genesis 6:11 and 12 to cleanse a corrupted earth.

Now wouldn’t that be ironic!

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