August 11, 2012
Last Saturday evening at seven o’clock, with the temperature stalled at 106 degrees, a cold front moved in. Within a few minutes, the temperature had dropped to 70 degrees and a series of small rainstorms moved across north Springfield, where I live, throughout the rest of the night.
I don’t mind telling you that, with the first sounds of rain against the windows, I ran around the house like a mad woman throwing open the windows, dropping towels on the floors where the rain might blow in with each little gust of wind. Then I scurried down to my small side porch where I drank in the smells and sights and sounds of the first rain we’d had in over two weeks – the first rain other than a couple of short, pop-up showers, in almost a month.
The cold front dropped the daytime temperatures to the mid nineties for the next few days. After more than a month of temperatures at near 100, seventeen of them 100 or above, even the mid-nineties were a blessing to this old gal. In addition, Wednesday evening, another cold front, with more rain, dropped the temperature into the eighties with nightly lows around sixty. I am, as they say around here, in hog heaven.
The rain and the cooler temperatures have refreshed me. Unremitting heat and drought are no more a friend to us older folks than to the corn and soy bean crops that lay dying in fields across the Midwest, right now. I have spent the last month creeping out into what passed for early morning cool, to water the garden and pick what vegetables it has managed to produce, before fleeing back to the house to scrounge out a little dusting and cleaning or do a load of laundry before the down-and-dirty heat hit for the day.
This week, I finally managed to finish painting the porch rails and the concrete caps on the brick posts, after giving up on it in the heat wave. I hoed a patch in the garden for my fall vegetables, turned the compost pile, hauled enough of the compost at the bottom of the pile to put a respectable layer over my fall garden patch in preparation for planting it tomorrow morning and finished several other small chores that have been waiting for a break in the weather.
We usually get such a break in late July around here – a day or two, when the temperatures fall into the eighties, the nights are suddenly cool and the scent of autumn-to-come hangs in the air for that day or two, before the heat returns. We’d had no such days this year and I confess I was near despair that this unremitting heat would go on until late September.
With ninety-eight percent of Missouri counties in drought or extreme drought, the rains of the past week have not been enough to turn that around. Nor have they reversed the rapid drop in the lake level – now below sixty-eight percent – for the lake that supplies our drinking water. The heat will return over the next week or so and, as in many places across the Midwest, we will watch the race between the drought and September rains to see which will win as lake levels continue to drop. Right now, we are under voluntary conservation measures and the only grass still alive in my yard surrounds my garden. If lake levels drop below sixty percent, we will be under mandatory measures and the garden and the grass will both be gone.
Whatever the weather over the next few months, I expect this winter to be a hard one. With half the corn crop gone to the drought, food prices are already rising. I doubt they will fall any time soon. And, with the drought so widespread, oil and gas companies are hard put to come up with the extravagant amounts of water needed for fracking – some of those companies, here in the Midwest, having to import water from as far away as Pennsylvania – which will probably raise energy prices this winter, too. It would be prudent to prepare.
We have painted ourselves into the proverbial corner. The more fossil fuels we dig up and burn, the warmer the global climate. The warmer the global climate, the more unstable the regional weather patterns around the globe. The more unstable the weather patterns, the higher the cost of food and energy. The higher the costs of food and energy, the more unstable the world economy. The more unstable the world economy, the more energy we burn, trying to keep it afloat. The more energy we burn …
We are not going to come out of this conundrum as the whole, complex system flounders toward a lower energy state of some kind. About the best we can hope for is what we, here in north Springfield, experienced this week. That little taste of autumn that refreshes and reinvigorates us, now and again, as we prepare for the next heat wave to come. Use such times wisely.