February 23, 2013
Well, we had a winter storm, such as it was here in Springfield, late Wednesday night into Thursday afternoon. It amounted to about two inches of snow-sleet mix (light on the snow and heavy on the sleet) covered by a quarter inch of freezing rain. Kansas City got 12-14 inches of snow; we got the winter mix; northwest Arkansas, up to ¾ of an inch of ice and various parts of southwest Arkansas, several inches of rain before the storm moved on eastward.
I bring this up because in last year’s drought, Missouri farmers lost nearly 50% of their corn crop and home gardeners, a good deal of their late spring gardens. So, we have all become sky watchers this winter to one degree or another. Our snowfall here over the years averaged seventeen inches. The local weather forecasters had predicted fourteen this winter. With less than a month to go before spring is officially here, that’s looking fairly unlikely. We’ve had only a few inches worth so far and, even with the few inches of collective rain this winter, here in Springfield, at least, we’ve not made up the fourteen inches we were behind last fall.
We do have a storm coming in on Monday and possibly another toward the end of the week, but it takes five to ten inches of snow – depending on whether it’s heavy and wet or powdery and dry – to provide an inch of water. And if it melts too fast, as snows sometimes do around here, much of it becomes run-off instead of soaking into the ground.
I remember seeing one of those climate change maps of the United States several years ago, showing the middle of the country – including southwest Missouri – being in permanent drought by the end of this century and thinking, No. Not here, where the average yearly rainfall is forty inches. At Christmas time in 2000, Springfield was digging out from a storm that dumped two feet of snow on us and a year or two later, we had a snowfall of eighteen inches in early March. Now, I wonder if we’ll make it to mid century before that climate change map becomes reality.
We’ve had a seemingly steady decrease in winter snowfalls here (and in spring rains) over the last decade. Of course, that’s not a long enough period of time to make definitive statements, but it does leave me with a good case of the willies when I think about that map. And with our seemingly endless capacity to kid ourselves about burning every last ounce of retrievable fossil fuel without repercussions, I am increasingly pessimistic about the future we are leaving our children and grandchildren.
Still, I started seeds this week for spinach, beets and cabbage – more cabbage than ever, in fact, since I found out it can be blanched and frozen for winter. I’m not at all fond of canned cabbage, though I did find several promising recipes for canned cole slaw that use a water bath. (Here is one, in case you’re interested. http://chickensintheroad.com/farm-bell-recipes/canned-coleslaw/ ) And, I will augment the starts with more seeds once they are planted, as I will with all my other vegetables this year, in hopes of having a better growing season in what promises to be another dry year.
I really don’t know what else to do except keep trying. I love gardening. I’ve never been one to just sit down and say, “Well, it’s no use.” But I don’t kid myself that, somehow, what we’re bringing on ourselves will have a happy ending – whether it’s the ramping up of climate change, the increasing failure of the perpetual growth meme, or the fact that, with all our touted hundred years of unconventional oil and gas, overall, the world economy is barely keeping up with the decreases in cheaper conventional oil around the world.
The complex and intertwined nature of these three does not bode well for solutions by governments fixated on finding politically palatable answers while maintaining business as usual and a people more interested in who they can blame for their decreasing quality of life as things fall apart.
It’s sunny here today and with a promised high of thirty-eight, the melting has begun. What’s left will freeze over, but melt tomorrow as the temperature climbs into the fifties – just in time for Monday’s storm. I will watch the sky and the earth for hints of what will come this spring. Though your signs will differ from mine, I suspect those of you who farm or garden, and are aware of the changings, (how could you not be?)will do the same where you live.
The snow will continue to fall too little or too much or in places where it’s not fallen at all in the records we keep of such things. The politicians will continue their search for easy, politically palatable solutions to our complex, intertwined problems. Those who cannot or choose not to see the signs will pull their coat collars up against a growing unease and look for the next group to blame for our problems. And the consequences of our collective folly will grow until they can no longer be ignored – or dealt with.