Tuesday, June 18, 2013

You Don't Need a Weatherman

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.
                                                     -Bob Dylan

It’s getting hotter.  But here in our corner of the upper Hudson Valley, it really doesn’t seem that bad this year. The apple crop has not been destroyed by erratic  heat waves and frosts, as it was last year, and the harvest promises to be especially good. The Mohawk and the Schoharie have been running high and boat traffic did have to be suspended last month on the Erie Canal but so far there’s been nothing quite as bad as the huge floods that followed Hurricane Irene in 2011.  And the tornado that ripped through Rotterdam and Schenectady a couple weeks ago may have been an anomaly, though some Assemblymen are worried by increasing tornado activity in the state and have called for an improved public warning system.

We all know that it’s a lot worse this year elsewhere in America.  Waves of tornados have crashed into Oklahoma. Wildfires are out of control in Colorado. Not that we’re immune around here. Last October Superstorm Sandy swept out of the warmest ocean temperatures ever recorded off our coasts to cause the kind of damage none of us imagined possible.
But the mass media tell us that we’re rebuilding. Republican Chris Christie and Democrat Barack Obama toured the Jersey shore last month in a heartening display of bipartisanship.  One reporter did nag the governor about whether New Jersey should have prepared for the future with climate change in mind. “No,” said Mr. Christie, “cause I don’t think there’s been any proof thus far that Sandy was caused by climate change.” President Obama, who from time to time admits that the climate is changing, stood next to him on the boardwalk but did not express any embarrassing disagreement with his host.

People want to be positive. “The storm can’t beat us,” as more than one New Yorker has said. Thus far,  I haven’t heard anyone say, “We’re New Yorkers and we’re a  lot tougher than carbon dioxide” but it seems many of us might feel that way. If not, why would people be buying up Rockaway beach front like crazy, barely eight months after nearby Breezy Point was obliterated?  True, they won’t be getting the same deals on federal flood insurance but these frantic buyers don’t seem that worried.

People who take the long view, of course, like insurance companies and farmers can’t afford to deny what’s right in front of their eyes. New York City Mayor Bloomberg, as a prime example, is not one to underestimate risks or he would never have become the billionaire that he is.  On June 11 he called for a $20 billion investment in flood barriers to protect New York City from whatever comes roaring out of the Atlantic in coming years. He quoted environmental scientists who predict sea levels rising as much as 31 inches by 2050, accompanied by severe storms and prolonged spells of extreme heat and cold But Mayor Bloomberg is leaving office this year and the odds against building such barriers may be as great as those against the gun control laws he’s also been fighting for. 

We’re nearing a point where not even the most avid denialists, like Texas Governor Rick Perry or Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, will be able to keep saying that everything is just fine and dandy, just the way God always wanted to be. (After all, 2012 was the hottest ever recorded in this country.)

Those who want to do nothing, however, will keep questioning why it’s all happening. They will be at great pains to point out that no one event, no matter how horrific, can be linked to a changing climate. And my guess is that they will keep expressing such doubts and keep advocating the burning of fossil fuel, no matter what the evidence.

The question the doubters and denialists won't want us to ponder is:  Do the droughts, tornadoes, heat waves, wild fires and floods have anything at all to do with how much carbon dioxide our cars, our air conditioners, our furnaces, our airplanes, our use of electricity sends into the atmosphere?

 And since we don’t agree on whether we ourselves are responsible, trains full of  Dakota crude oil still come through Albany every day for the past year as if burning all that fuel will have no effect on the rising temperature of the globe. Governor Cuomo, who was so forthright about the reality of climate change right after Superstorm Sandy, has not commented on all those tanker cars lined up along I-787. (Click on image for earlier story on this)

The national government still sends its fleets and armies across the planet as if obscure tribesmen and angry fanatics were anything but a minor threat when compared against devastating climate change. The federal legislature is still dead-locked  over abstract financial numbers as if Washington itself may not be covered by the sea before they ever reach an agreement. And as each region of the country faces the impact of forces the federal government chooses to ignore, who is to say what the future will bring?

To answer this question is to enter the realm of fiction, or science fiction. And that is what led to my latest story, now available on Kindle for 99 cents - Just click on the cover image at the top or bottom of this post.

Imagine a retired couple enjoying their golden years in a time after New York, Boston and Washington have vanished beneath rising seas. Imagine a time of rainy and dry seasons, of wildfires that take out entire states, and of powerful regional regimes that have assumed the power that an obsolete and archaic national government refused to wield.

How would such confederations of the old states survive in an era when the climate causes repeated waves of destruction? A time when no more oil can be imported?  Would such a confederation of northeastern states turn to back to coal? Would steam-driven locomotives become the most reliable means of transportation in such a time? Would the leaders of such a society still be denying that burning fossil fuel is making the planet ever hotter and more threatening to human survival?

Now, imagine that the grandson of this elderly couple is a weatherman for WMHT radio in a time when television and the internet are distant memories. Now that the satellites are gone, young Ray’s respect for old-school methods wins him a devoted following in the regional capital at Albany.

Then, one rainy Monday Ray takes to the air waves to become the most dangerous kind of whistle-blower any society can imagine: the man who claims that everything that has gone wrong with the world is our own fault.

Excerpt from the opening of You Don’t Need a Weatherman:

We used to plant tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, corn, you name it, but with all the rain we’ve been having lately, we finally switched to damp-resistant potatoes and turnips. Marge and I both like to putter around in the garden so when the rain finally tapered off on Monday, we went out to pull a few weeds. I ran an extension cord so we could bring the radio with us and catch the noon weather report. 

To be honest, we just like to hear Ray’s voice. He always starts out saying “Stay tuned for the official North East Regional Authority ten day weather forecast.” Then he reads a commercial, say, for a special railroad excursion to Whiteface Mountain. After that, he might read another commercial for canning jars or mosquito netting. And then he reads the forecast. There was nothing unexpected in what Ray read on Monday.  Just rain today and tomorrow, followed by partly rainy, cloudy, more cloudy, more rain and a flood warning for the end of the week. 

Unlike a lot of those guys who pass for weathermen on the radio, Ray has a double degree in meteorology and geology from Union Siena and really knows what he’s talking about. The Weather Bureau experts at NERA even consult with him on some of the trickier predictions. Of course, there’s no sure way to foretell the weather that isn’t tricky, unlike years ago when the satellites were still up. You might say it’s all guesswork now although Ray would disagree. He’s a great one for checking wind speed, barometric pressure and all that, and he even talks on the telephone with weather men in the Central and Southern Regional Authorities. He told me that he got in some trouble for that once, around the time of those border incidents in Kentucky.

And did I mention that Ray Rogers, the weatherman at WMHT Schenectady, is our very own grandson?

 Ray’s feature program is our favorite, a fifteen minute slot billed as “Ray’s Rainy Day” broadcast every Monday and Wednesday from 2:15 to 2:30.  His angle is to tell uplifting weather stories, like the little girl who survived for a month in a collapsed building after the Great Boston Tornado or the boy who warned his village when Superstorm Sammy surged all the way to Harpers Ferry. 

Unfortunately, we both dozed off after lunch and missed the show. Marge says that retirement can make you really lazy.

We went over that evening to play cards with the Feldmans.  Bob retired from NERA Rail the same time I did and has been a pal for years. As she dealt the first hand, his wife Jane relayed some gossip about dead bodies floating in the Estuary that she heard from Mary Hotaling, whose brother is a Hudson Riverwatcher

“Makes me think of the time you and me were working the Scranton Line,” observed Bob.

“Do you mean when the Chesapeake Bay moved way up into the Susquehanna?”

“Yeah, all the bridges had been wiped out and there were bodies floating everywhere.”

“Funny, we came through a year later and the Susquehanna was bone dry.”

“That was the summer of the big wildfires, wasn’t it?”

“It was a son of a bitch getting the coal train through that mess, wasn’t it?” Looking at my pair of fives and three queens, I winked at Marge and said, “I call.”

“We nearly choked to death,” laughed Bob, laying down his aces and tens. “Full house!”

“What a bastard!” I was laughing along with Bob. We don’t play for serious money, just fun. 

Shuffling the cards, I started to deal. “That fire was no joke. It burned out most of Maryland before the hurricanes came.”

“You remember those walls of fire on both sides of the tracks in Hagerstown? A couple of boxcars burst into flames before we could disconnect them.”

“Hagerstown? Don’t you mean New Washington?”

“I keep forgetting they’d moved the federal government up there before they went to Charlottesville.”

“Ever since old D.C. was engulfed, the Feds keep looking for a perfect spot for the new capital.”

“I don’t know why they even bother to keep it all going, the President, Congress, Supreme Court, that whole circus. It isn’t like they have any serious work to do since the Regional Authorities stepped up.”

“The USA is an important symbol, like the flag,” I reminded Bob. “It stands for our freedom.”


Read the rest of You Don't Need a Weatherman on your Kindle reader for 99 cents. The Kindle version can  also be read on tablets, smartphones and PCs by downloading the free Kindle app. Amazon Prime members may borrow the story through the Kindle Owners Lending Library. Click on cover image for details.

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