Monday, March 15, 2010

Wild Weather Heralds Spring 2010

As the years go by, it seems the storms are getting stronger than they used to be. The last couple of weeks have been a real eye opener, first the huge snowstorm that downed more trees than any storm in my memory, then the massive wind/rainstorm this past weekend that finished off several more trees. The pics above show the results of the latter storm at my friend Andrew's house. In one of the pics he is standing where he actually was the day before, when the neighbor's huge hemlock tree came crashing down. He ran for his life, good thing he heard the crack as the tree broke while he was righting some potted plants during the storm. He is convinced that he wouldn't be here if he hadn't looked up to see the tree falling in time to escape. It crushed the fence, and presumably two rhododendron bushes and a hardy clerodendron as well. The extent of the damage won't be revealed till the tree is chopped up and removed, but it could have been much worse. Another pic gives a better idea of the tree's size, it can be seen laying across the neigbor's yard before the top hit the fence between the properties. Andrew has a better appreciation of large trees than I do, but even he had to admit that the neighbor's huge oak towering over his house, which moved about 10 degrees or so off vertical towards his house during the storm, is a dangerous situation, so the neighbor will have to cut the tree down. Frankly if it were my family, we wouldn't have stayed in the house till the tree was cut down, but all seems fine so far. In my own home, a loud thunderclap heralded a lightning bolt that my wife said came in the window in front of where she was washing some dishes, and our daughter reported red and blue bolts arcing down from the kitchen light behind my wife. Fortunately everyone is okay, but it was quite frightening to realize that we might not be safe even in our own home, especially as the thunderclap came with no advance warning. As I continued my survey of the damage in Andrew's yard, we noticed the other neighbor's house had siding stripped off one of the walls. To quote my friend "that's what hurricanes do!". Ummm....Exactly.
The previous snowstorm, which was a massive nor'easter like the rainstorm that followed, felled countless trees and limbs, many of which I have been observing on my way to work and back. The Bronx River, Taconic, and Saw Mill Parkways are all littered with limbs, broken trees, and uprooted trees all along the roadsides and into the forests surrounding them. All of these major highways have been closed at times during the worst of the storm's fury due to fallen trees.
While one can never say with certainty that a particular weather event is due to climate change, there certainly seems to be a trend towards windier and more violent storms in our area over the last few years. For much of the US that would not be a major departure from normality, but in this area we have always felt safe from real weather extremes, we generally don't get really bad storms of any kind, and its been many decades since a serious hurricane hit. In my view, the prediction of more violent and extreme weather events that would be expected as a result of climate change due to anthropogenic warming seems to be coming true, in subtle and not so subtle ways. If there is a silver lining (albeit a small one), it is that us zone pushing gardeners will find that more plants can survive in this area as the USDA zones continue their slow march north.

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