A warming climate

A kayaker paddles across Main Street in downtown Barre, Vt., on Monday night, July 10, 2023. (Jeb Wallace-Brodeur/The Times Argus via AP)

I recall reading, earlier this year, about unprecedented flooding, in several areas of California. Until that time, those areas had been stricken by years of climate-change-induced mega-drought so dire that in August 2021, the major hydroelectric 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, 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 10, 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 5-7 feet deep. Fish now populate its waters. 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 almost 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 Street 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 1,200 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 New York State Thruway had to be temporarily closed. The westbound lanes of the Bear Mountain Bridge (U.S. Routes 6 and 202), across the Hudson River, were also closed. CSX freight tracks were compromised in several locations.

The 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, New Jersey was also hard-hit. As was Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where five 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 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.


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