A blessing and a curse

Published 5:17 pm Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Anybody in these parts that believes in prayer should be giving thanks for the rain we have had in the past few days. Our parched earth was going to yield a bountiful crop if you had irrigation, but that comes at a terrible economic cost especially with the cost of fuel and electricity these days.

Besides, any farmer will tell you that irrigation is never a substitute for a good soaking rain from above.

As is often the case, one person’s blessing is another person’s curse. The rains brought on by Tropical Storm Lee over Labor Day Weekend were quite a nuisance for all those that depend on tourists in the panhandle of Florida. Traffic was down, hotel occupancy was less and yes, even fast food sales were off.

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However, the sweet smell of the rain and the cooling temperatures it brought made us think of the wonderful feel of fall weather. Almost simultaneously some of the leaves began to turn color and drift to the ground.

You throw in the first college football games of the year and all suddenly seems right with the world, unless you are a Georgia fan of course. Even football games were delayed and cancelled because of the drenching rains, something that almost never happened in the past.

Last year was one of the deadliest weather years in a generation. However, most of the most catastrophic storms occurred in other parts of the world. For another year, the United States was spared the worst of the weather that now seems to fill our news channels.

This year is another story. In just the past few weeks we have seen some pretty unprecedented weather in this country alone. In one week, we had an earthquake strong enough to put multiple cracks in the Washington Monument and Hurricane Irene that killed 37 people up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

Both of these storms had an estimated damage of over $1 Billion. Even in these times of budget deficits and cost overruns, $1 Billion dollars is still a huge amount of money.

Insurance companies estimate the United States has had double the amount of natural disasters they normally do in the first half of the year. People in one part of the country were drowning while record droughts covered large swaths of the Southeast and Southwest.

The heat has been unrelenting and oppressive in ways that I never remember as a child. Temperature records have been broken in Donalsonville and Bainbridge and in thousands of other places around the country.

Houston, Texas had 24 straight days of temperatures over 100 degrees, a record. The Jersey coast temperatures reached 108 degrees, a record by 3 degrees. Even my relatives in Fairbanks, Alaska who have bears wander into their yards in the winter, had to endure a temperature high of 97 degrees.

The tornadoes this year seemed not only unusually strong, but had a tendency to hit areas with more population. In particular, Joplin, Missouri and Tuscaloosa, Alabama were devastated by twisters that left total destruction in their paths. Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Wisconsin all had killer tornadoes.

While it seems like there is more of a concentration of severe weather, perhaps it is due to our increasing news coverage of approaching storms. Hurricane Irene was on every news channel for days before hitting land. We almost had information overload before the waves hit the beaches.

Our homes along the coast are bigger and more expensive leading to larger monetary losses. I used to camp in the dunes along Thomas Drive in Panama City. A storm there would have caused minimal damage at the time, but would be extraordinarily expensive today with the high rise condos and expensive houses at every turn along the way.

Scientists around the world are studying reasons why the storms and weather patterns seem so unusually strong. One reason seems to be that we are having record high nighttime temperatures. That is not a surprise to anyone that still sits out on the rocker in the evening or wants to take a brisk walk in the morning. It is hot and humid all the time.

I am one of those that believe all of this has to be at least partially the result of global warming. Perhaps the weather will just be more intense and the storms more frequent. Perhaps we have to compromise by making smarter decisions about our environment and learning to adapt to our changing weather patterns.

In the meantime, I’ll give thanks for the wonderful rain of the past few days while still being mindful that my joy may be someone’s sorrow just a few days later.

Dan Ponder can be reached at dan@donalsonvillenews.com