The Washington I'm living in now is very different from the one I grew up with. My familiar Washington had cold winters that brought snow to the mountains, skiers to the slopes, and occasionally treated us kids to a snow day here in the lowlands. We had springs that were green and wet, and actually required one to own a rain jacket. Our summers were mild, hitting 90 degrees was almost unheard of, and "a day without rain" was a rare occurrence.
|Snoqualmie River a few weeks ago. I don't think I've ever seen it so low. Lainey Piland photo|
But this year, August has arrived in June. Rivers are at late-summer levels right now, and on a daily basis hit new record lows for this time of year. Blackberry bushes are blooming and already sporting tiny green berries. Distant Cascade and Olympic mountains are dark and hazy, their slopes bare of brilliant snow. The landscape is so tinder-dry that wildfires are igniting anywhere they're given the opportunity, and Wenatchee is currently on fire as I write this. It's almost as though someone has punched the fast-forward button on our year, zooming forward to late summer.
I have faith that we'll see our familiar old Washington again; that it's not yet time to permanently refer to that place in the past tense. This year could be an anomaly. Hopefully it is. But this winter, spring and summer are giving us an advance look, a special preview, a sneak peek, if you will - of the kind of Washington in which we can expect to live in the decades to come, thanks to the effects of climate change.
A year ago, I wrote a post summarizing the anticipated climate change effects for our region outlined in the then just-released National Climate Assessment (NCA). Take a look at the post once again, and see if you don't get a creepy-crawly, goosebumpy feeling of deja vu. Loss of snowpack, changes in streamflow, hotter and drier summers, significant increases in wildfire occurrence and size, challenges for agriculture... any of that sounding familiar? This year, we've been living out the effects of climate change detailed in the NCA... decades before they were supposed to happen.
Since these changes arrived earlier than expected, we can only hope that this year is an anomaly, and that our hot dry summer and warm winter were nothing more than the result of El Nino (although probably somewhat enhanced by climate change). We can almost look at this year as a test run so that we'll know what to expect in the future. Winters like the one we just had, and summers like the one we're currently having, will become the new normal. And if greenhouse gas emissions aren't severely curtailed - and soon - we can expect our Washington winters to be even warmer and completely bereft of snow, and summers to be hotter and more parched than what we're seeing now. Who wants that? I know I don't.
I feel so out of place even though I'm still physically living in the same place - just a changed version of it. This Washington is not the one I know. Let's hope we don't have to live here permanently.
|Shallow waters of the Snoqualmie River are a lovely color. Lainey Piland photo|
The Washington State Department of Ecology has a rundown on the current status of the WA drought on their ECOconnect blog. Check it out here.