Monday, July 24, 2023

A Warming Climate


Tulare Lake Basin flood progression
Extreme Weather Events

I recall reading, earlier this year, about unprecedented flooding, in several areas of California that, until that time, had been stricken by years of climate-change-induced mega-drought so dire that, in August of 2021, a major hydroelectric power plant, Edward Hyatt Power Plant, was forced to shut down for the first time since it opened in 1967, due to extraordinarily low water levels. The plant’s reservoir, California’s second-largest, Lake Oroville, had fallen to just 24% of total capacity.

After this year’s January storms, however, the water level started to rise. It was 82% full on March 10th, when officials began letting water out of the reservoir for the first time in four years. Earlier this month, Lake Oroville had filled to 100% capacity.

In April, California’s Tulare Lake, a dry lake, was refilling, due to torrential rainfall. It’s currently five – to seven-feet deep. Fish now populate its waters. And birds have flocked to its shores. Tulare Lake was once the largest lake west of the Mississippi River. When full, it covered 800 square miles and fed several rivers. But it dried up completely nearly a century ago, as a result of dams, canals, and levees being built in and around California’s San Joaquin Valley; the largest agricultural region in the state of California. The last time a portion of the lake resurfaced was in 1983.

Normally, the dried-up Tulare lakebed offers ideal growing conditions for hot-weather crops, but this year’s flooding created an agricultural crisis, submerging hundreds of acres of cotton, tomatoes, and other vegetable crops, and leaving almond and pistachio orchards, dairy farms, homes, roads, and power infrastructure underwater. Currently, the flooded parts of Tulare Lake span nearly 180 square miles. And, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), flooding will likely continue into 2024.
That means farmers may not be able to plant again before 2025. Orchard trees that spend that much time with their roots underwater will need to be replanted, causing a several-years-long gap in production.

In April, Broward County, Florida, experienced historic flash-flooding. The city of Fort Lauderdale, home to nearly 200,000 residents, reported 25.91-inches of rain in less than 24 hours. At the same time, the Mississippi River had risen to destructive levels in four mid-western states; Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois. In La Crosse, Wisconsin, the river crested at 15.89-feet; the highest since 2001.

In the Wake of the Flood

In recent weeks, parts of the northeast have been devastated by unyielding downpours. Flash-flood warnings were in effect for Clinton, Essex, Franklin, and Hamilton Counties, as persistent, slow-moving storms washed out culverts and flooded area rivers and streams. The storms left roads, campgrounds, and basements in parts of northern Clinton County underwater. Fortunately, no injuries were reported.

Parts of Hamilton and Essex Counties, including the towns of Newcomb, Long Lake, and Blue Mountain Lake experienced intense flooding that caused significant damage to roads, bridges, homes, and power lines. In Long Lake, the spillway dam on Jennings Park Pond broke, draining the pond and inundating homes and camps below the dam. Part of Main St. also flooded. At the time of this writing, route 28N from Newcomb to Long Lake remains closed, due to a bridge collapse.

In Ticonderoga (southeast Essex County), the sewage treatment system overflowed, discharging roughly 1200-gallons of untreated sewage an hour into the La Chute River, also known as Ticonderoga Creek, for six hours.

In Clinton County, a state of emergency was declared for the towns of Saranac and Dannemora, after high water levels triggered road closures there, including a shutdown of State Route 3 through Saranac.

Water, Water Everywhere

Communities north of New York City were also devastated by flooding. Sections of the Palisades Interstate Parkway and the NY State Thruway had to be temporarily closed. The westbound lanes of the Bear Mountain Bridge (US Routes 6 and 202), across the Hudson River, were also closed. CSX freight tracks were compromised in several locations.

Ludlow VT flooding 7/10/23The United States Military Academy, in West Point, recorded nearly 7-inches of rain in three hours, as flash floods swept through the nearby Orange County town of Highland Falls. It’s only the second time that the National Weather Service has issued a flash flood emergency in Orange County.

Middlesex County, NJ was also hard-hit. As was Bucks County, PA, where 5 people have been confirmed dead.

Cities and towns in Coos, Carroll, and Grafton Counties, in New Hampshire, were overwhelmed by staggering amounts of rain.
The state of Vermont saw its worst flooding since Tropical Storm Irene, in 2011. Gov. Phil Scott called the flooding, which turned roads and streets across the state into rushing rivers, “historic and catastrophic.” Torrential rains damaged or destroyed thousands of homes and businesses, including many farms, and forced evacuations in Montpelier, Barre, Hardwick, Londonderry, Ludlow, and several other towns and cities. Swift-water-rescue teams, including two from North Carolina and one from Massachusetts, assisted the Vermont National Guard, State and local police, EMTs, and others with rescue efforts. In Jeffersonville, the Lamoille River reached its highest level ever; 455.13 feet.

Warming Oceans are the Fuel

According to Cornell University Professor of Atmospheric Science, Arthur Degaetano, who is also Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Northeast Regional Climate Center, predictions based on scientific data show the Northeast will continue to become wetter because of climate change. Warmer air holds more moisture and causes more rainfall. That rain is mostly coming from oceans, which are also warming and making evaporation easier.

Photo Credit:
1 – The progression of flooding in California’s Tulare Lake basin. Images courtesy of the  Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite between March 2 and April 28, 2023.

2 – Flooded area in Ludlow, Vermont; July 10, 2023 – screen grab obtained from a social media video


Related Stories

Richard Gast is a retired Extension Program Educator and has been contracted by Cornell Cooperative Extension Franklin County to continue his informative and thought provoking articles.

9 Responses

  1. Nathan says:

    We will have to start rebuilding all bridges, drains for the “1,000 year storm thats the newer norm”. We also need to rethink where people are building, stop building in flood prone areas and when severe damage occurs to homes, rebuild in better areas and then take old homes down and restore wet lands to help reduce flooding down stream. paving and channeling waterways and stream, rivers also lead to much worse flooding.
    I’ll take the rains in the Adirondacks over the idea of massive forest fires in the forests around us. The forests are full of dead debris and dry weather brings dangerous risks of whole towns being burned out. I love forever wild but i think we need some controlled logging like Northern Maine practices. Reducing fores fire risks, supplying economic income and above all, creating a much more diverse enviroment for animal life. Most of the Adirondacks is approaching mature forest stage and limits foraging for many animals. Logging increases diversity of food, cover and life.
    But all future trails, roads, bridges, culverts and building zones have to be designed in respect to heavy rains, freeing waterways to flood into swamps, lowlands as it has for time before man.

    • Jim S. says:

      Whenever I hear of people thinking human beings can manage a forest better than nature I worry about the future of mankind. Mature forests provide the best environment for a wide variety of animals not just deer(forest rats).

      • Boreas says:

        Agree. Especially a forest set aside to be preserved, not “maintained”. If humans are concerned about their dwellings burning, perhaps they should reconsider the location of those homes, not modify the Forest Preserve to lessen their risk.

      • JohnL says:

        From the standpoint of forest fire management, yes we can manage a forest better than nature. This article is a couple years old, but still applies.

        • Jim S. says:

          People mistaking political garbage as science is the main reason I worry for the future of mankind. Thank you for the illustration John.

          • JohnL says:

            You’re welcome JS. Any time someone says something that’s, how do I say it nicely,…. not right, I’ll be glad to provide the accurate alternative illustration.

        • ADKresident says:

          Thanks, JohnL for this common sense article.

          Of course we can do our part to help maintain and manage healthy forests! It’s called being a good steward of the earth, which is not gong to ‘just happen’ without some strategic and thoughtful intervention. (Who, on a small scale, does not do that even on their own property/land?) There are practical ways of reducing risks of forest fires AND keep it ‘forever wild’ while strategically considering the habitat of wildlife AND doing all we can to preserve their ‘home’ also. It’s not an either/or issue- but it always is an either/or issue when politicians are involved, as they use it as campaign initiatives to get elected, touting promises they rarely deliver because they quickly find out that it’s now a profitable business model and cash cow- for them.

          Doesn’t anyone else find it amazing how many millions of dollars, if not billion$, are supposedly going to ‘climate causes’ with very little tangible manifestations of it being put towards GOOD use in stewarding the actual earth itself? Instead, the MAJORITY of $$ is spent to fund campaigns, media publications, form committees/counsels, fund lobbyists, pay for buildings & staffs that do more talking ‘about it’ than anything. So much wa$te.

          There needs to be more public auditing and accountability for each dollar being thrown at ‘climate issues’ with little to show for it. Where is the $$ really going.?…just saying.

  2. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Nathan says: “I’ll take the rains in the Adirondacks over the idea of massive forest fires in the forests around us.”

    Surely that will be arriving soon or late Nathan. I recall the forecasters saying two-plus decades ago, just when ‘Global warming’ was becoming fashionable wording, that the northeast was going to fare better than the rest of the country so far as weather-related events go, which has been true to a large extent thus far. We are very fortunate up here in the northeast compared to most everywhere else… much longer will it last?

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Wait! Before you go:

Catch up on all your Adirondack
news, delivered weekly to your inbox