IS AUTUMN FOLIAGE IN WINTER A HARBINGER OF WORSE THINGS TO COME?
I went golfing yesterday. It was a beautiful day, with the sun shining and temperatures rising quickly to shirtsleeve weather. The course has a well-manicured layout for casual golfers, but the grass is struggling this season because of the prolonged heat lingering through autumn and on into winter. It seems every one of the last several years has brought us a later start than usual for the cooler temperatures of fall. Normally, winter rye is planted in October on the desert courses, and it weathers well until the spring. The plan isn’t working quite so well this year. Did I mention it was 78° yesterday? Our average high in Southern Arizona for January is 64°. January mornings would normally hover around 30° and have the golfers waiting for the frost to clear before allowing the early birds to begin their rounds, but not this time. There’s no mention of climate change, but the facts are evident. The winter rye is burning, even though it receives daily watering. The sun is too much for it.
The golf course is surrounded by aging but well-kept homes, and with many thirty to forty year old trees offering much needed shade. Most of the trees are either desert types, such as Mesquite or Palo Verde, but there are quite a few Pine and Cedar trees as well. The desert trees will lose most of their leaves during the winter, and if late winter and early spring brings us the life-sustaining rains, we’ll be treated to a majestic show of intensely yellow flowering trees around April, before they develop their canopies of green leaves for summer.
This year, as last year, we see subtle changes, though. Normally, January would be colorless, with bare tree limbs and the occasional pine tree breaking up the horizon. We’ve had the cloudy days of winter, but without the cold and without much rain to speak of since last July. Even in the desert, a certain amount of rain is common. Winter is often a good time for 2-3 inches of rain, but not this year.
So back to the golf course. On the side of the 12th fairway stood a magnificent Oak tree (not native to Arizona, most likely planted by a homesick human transplant) dressed in full orange and red regalia, as if it were late September in Iowa, not early January anywhere! It was so out of place it struck me as surreal. But then I remembered that we had planted an Ash tree in August and it had only begun losing its yellowing leaves around Christmas, which seemed late to me, but I hadn’t given it much more thought.
Why am I telling you this? Because in this morning’s paper there was a front-page article about a nearby canyon still boasting full autumn foliage – with the worrisome thought that this might be cause for concern for the future of our natural weather patterns, and the effects that could have on our fragile desert flora and fauna. You might question the word “fragile” when you think of cactus with 2″ long spines, and scorpions, snakes, coyotes and javelina. But all these creatures depend on the vegetation to be at its appropriate stage when they begin having their offspring and teaching them to forage for water and food, and how to use the plants as camouflage for safety.
Another concern is what happens to the desert when it dries out after months of no rain and then a sudden thunderstorm in summer brings lightning to the canyons devoid of running streams, and strikes a dry tree, ready to burst into flames that race up the canyon, destroying brush, cactus, other trees and smaller wildlife that are unable to flee. The dried up earth can’t absorb the rain fast enough to contribute to the water tables, so the water runs off in raging floods through the canyons, while the debris from the fire forms a sludgy mess as the water roars down the hills. Seedlings are washed away, and healthy plants below the flood are overcome by mud and water and debris.
Scientists who study climate change need much more data than that of one autumn season that’s off kilter. Their information comes from all over the globe and covers years, decades, and where possible, centuries of information. Even so, when an unusual occurrence takes place, scientists take note, verifying everything from temperatures, rainfall amounts, and wind patterns, to sunspots.
There are reports from National Geographic and CNN that the ozone hole seems to be responding to our attempts to get rid of CFCs – Chlorofluorocarbons … those things in aerosol spray bottles and refrigerator coolants. http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/01/health/antarctic-ozone-layer-healing/index.html Good news for future generations of people, to be sure.
Closing the hole in the Ozone is one important goal, but decreasing global warming is another that isn’t faring so well. According to another article by CNN http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/18/world/2016-hottest-year/index.html 16 of the hottest years on record world-wide happened since 2000. The last time there was a record cold year was 1911 – more than 100 years ago.
Global warming does not mean the every country, every state, and every city will get warmer each year. It means that the overall warming of our planet (Earth) is rising by a degree or two almost every year. The seas are getting warmer, the poles are getting warmer. Air currents are getting warmer and changing patterns. These alterations are causing weather conditions to change, and CLIMATE CHANGE is a more understandable description than global warming. Although the globe is getting warmer overall, some areas are experiencing fiercer winter weather because of wind patterns bringing in colder lake or ocean effect weather with more snow and lower temperatures over a given time. Tornadoes and hurricanes are becoming stronger and more frequent for the same reasons. This week, a “bomb cyclone” or winter hurricane moved up the east coast of the United States. We never hear of hurricanes in the dead of winter, but here we have one. Although it’s bringing temporary colder weather, its cause is the climate change taking place as other places in the world continue to warm, and the winter temperature of the oceans stay higher than normal, contributing to the development of hurricane force winds. It works in conjunction with the normal jet stream pushing cold air down from Canada this time of year, so that parts of the Midwest and New England are trapped between two areas of colder than usual weather, creating a false impression of “global cooling” as opposed to global warming. But make no mistake, warming is taking place in the United States, and in Europe, Africa, Asia, Antarctica, Australia, and many other places, even if it’s cold where you are right now.
Fortunately, all the major countries in the world, with the exception of the United States, have formed an agreement to reduce carbon emissions and other atmospheric pollution in an attempt to stop the rising heat. The United States was one of the original parties to form the Paris Climate agreement, but has since backed out for inexplicable reasons. Nevertheless, many of our states and cities have contacted the members of the global agreement and pledged to continue to reduce pollutants and maintain safe levels of emissions.
We weren’t really aware of global warming until 1957, when a newspaper mentioned the idea of global warming in southern California. It concerned scientists due to escaping gases and carbons that appeared to heat the atmosphere and could possibly lead to changes in weather if left unchecked. But the idea itself wasn’t really new. As early as the 19th century a Swedish scientist, Svante Arrhenius, considered that the burning of fossil fuel (coal) could have an adverse warming effect on the planet. It’s taken more than a century for most of the population of the world to accept that indeed, the earth is warming, and the outcome might not be very good if we don’t get a grip on it right now, before the damage becomes irreversible.
If we don’t act against climate change and man’s contributing behaviors, what will become of autumn foliage, spring flowers, and ordinary grass? Will we be golfing on sand on the west coast, while the east coast fights hurricanes and snow cyclones year round? – ENDRead More