I mentioned in a recent post that I made a fire at Pinyon Point in the fall of 2013. I didn't plan to, I didn't know anything about this campsite, and would never believe after walking through barren dry sand desert with yucca and Joshua trees for ten or twenty miles that I would come up a ridge and into a thick pine woods.
Nor did I mention that some genius made this fire/stove/kitchen/bedroom. Using two or three boulders and a carefully stacked wall of rocks with square gaps. So that as the fire burned down, warmth passed through to anyone sleeping across the rocks from the coals. Brilliant woodsmanship, by an anonymous genius, perhaps a John Muir, or an Ed Abbey.
I like to try of who might be like that alive today, and my mind goes to the phenomal Chris Clarke, of KCET and at least one blog.
But never mind -- let me just thank the anonyous creator, whoever he is, for allowing me to make that one precious fire, and share it, as best I can.
Last year at this time a huge wave of heat was detected propagating as the scientists say through surface waters from east to west across the Pacific. Ultimately a series of such "Kelvin waves" went on to warm much of the tropical Pacific, and waters along the West Coast, resulting in huge changes in sealife.
Once in a while, on a schedule seemingly impossible to predict, what happens in the Pacific can drive a series of meteorogical events leading to great floods of rain along the West Coast. A big big El Niño.
"The great wet hope," as Bill Patzert of NASA likes to say.
It didn't happen last year, and meteorologists this year, such as Daniel Swain of Weather West, sound a little abashed discussing the possibility again for this year.
Well, as most of us are aware by now, that didn’t happen, and the projections from winter/spring 2014 represent a considerable forecast failure on the part of the models typically used to make long-lead ENSO [forecasts. Instead, the world bore witness to an El Niño event that barely reached the threshold for a marginal event–and, for the most part, didn’t exhibit the kind of ocean-atmosphere “coupling” we might typically expect. Persistent weakening of the easterly trade winds simply didn’t happen, and the incipient event just couldn’t sustain itself through the winter.
In short you can't trust the models. No matter how smart the researchers may be.
As I reported recently, Jeanine Jones, a high-ranking official in the California Department of Water Resources also questioned the usefulness of those models in a long talk at a high-level national drought conference last month.
Further, she pointed out that the mere mention of the speculation of "the great wet hope" substantially reduces water conservation.
Swain concedes that May is still too early to observe an El Niño event and alludes to a
Spring Predictability Barrier–the period during which long-lead ENSO forecasts remain challenging due to the chaotic nature of the ocean-atmosphere system.
Again Swain points out that -- in short -- you can't trust the models.As if to say, don't even roll that dice.
Yet and still, he cannot help but be tantalized by the magnitude of the changes in ocean temperature that are being charted by a host of different research teams:
They're literally off the charts. Not to mention the strong westerly wind bursts, and the typhoon connection. Turns out the Pacific is in record-setting mode when it comes to creating Category 5 typhoons. We've had five already, and the first was an all-timer, with sustained winds of 160 mph.
Here's what it looked like from the International Space Station. Super Typhoon Maysak:
The last time we had this many typhoons this early in the year? Jeff Masters:
The global record for Category 5 storms is held by the El Niño year of 1997, which had twelve Category 5 storms--ten of them in the Northwest Pacific. The third Cat 5 of 1997 in the Northwest Pacific occurred on July 22, so we are more than two months ahead of that year's record pace.
And of course, the El Niño of 1887-1998 was a Godzilla that literally changed the world.
Let me say I grew up far away from the desert and never thought I liked its lack of trees and aridity, but well, maybe I should have known better. Should have listened to my elders. For example:
This is a sort of plaza, at about six thousand feet, overlooking the vastest desert in Southern California. This area, which I'm calling Pinyon Point,has numerous sites in which to roll out a pad in beauty and serenity (and perhaps wind, for at its height, it does experience weather -- that's why, I think, the pinyon pines grow so well there).
Yet it's all but unused. I made a fire there a year and a half ago, after a snowfall, and near as I can tell, the campfire hasn't been used since. I confess I kind of like it that way, so I'm not going to reveal the exact location, although readers who would like to know can write me, and I'll probably tell.
I was rolling up my tent this past Sunday, and heard a pair of PCT walkers stop and chat on the other side of a rock, not fifty feet away, and yet completely oblivious of my presence.
The GOP's war on science gets worse, writes Elizabeth Kolbert, noting that the House GOP cut $300 million from NASA's budget for earth sciences (including climate) on the childish old theory that ignoring a problem will make it go away.
That same week The New Yorker, for which Kolbert writes, came up with an even wittier version of the same basic argument:
According to economic experts, for the first time in at least a hundred years, quite possibly ever, the American middle-class is losing ground. It's not just that the richer are getting richer, it's also "wage stagnation." Meaning that young people today cannot expect to surpass their parents, as young generations in the past could -- and did.
I've learned a lot about this subject putting together a panel to discuss it (in about a month -- details below). So let me post some of the more notable data graphs I've come across in the next few weeks.
Steepest drop-off in recent American history, probably ever.
This comes from Emmanuel Saez, a UCBerkeley economist who works closely with Thomas Piketty, of Capital in the 21st Century fame. Saez was one of the first we at the Ojai Chat invited to our panel discussion on June 7th, but he politely declined, saying that he received countless such invitations, and couldn't possibly do any work if he were to make time to talk about it...as we will in Ojai on June 7th.
On the front page of the LATimes today, news that Californians are not rising to the challenge of the drought.
Cumulative water savings since last summer totaled only 8.6% compared with the same 10-month period in 2013, the baseline year for savings calculations. And in March, California residents and businesses used 3.6% less water than they did during the same month in 2013.
We need to save about three times as much water.
I ask one thing: please don't blame the press for the sluggishness of the public. The reporting coming out of the Central Valley in recent years, ground zero of the California drought, from the likes of Mark Arax, now an award-winning author, once of the LA Times, and Diane Marcum, a Los Angeles Times reporter who this past week won a Pulitzer for her work on the drought, has been extraordinary.
Teri Gross interviews Arax here , and he gives a brilliant description, in about the fewest possible number of words, of the history of California's water system and the drought's impact.
And in this community of Fairmead, one of the African-American settlements out here in California, these big almonds guys, looking for more land, more profit, started coming right across the street. And the one family that I profiled, the wife was literally looking outside across the street at this new almond orchard going in. And the farmer was testing his pump that day. And the pump was probably a thousand feet deep into the ground. And their little pump that was pumping the water for their house and five acres probably reached 250 feet into the ground. And as soon as he tested that well, everything went dry in the house - the kitchen sink, the bathroom, the toilet - all, alas, burble. And it's been dry ever since - a year. And now they're hauling water and setting up these kinds of contraptions, not unlike the contraptions they had set up a half a century ago when they first came.
But even better, in terms of understanding and appreciating a reporter at work, is an extended interview with Diana Marcum, a stringer who worked her way on to the LATimes. The questions from Nieman are great and the answers enthralling.
You and the photographer, Michael Robinson Chavez, had envisioned from the beginning that it would be a series. Did you think of it in any more specific terms than that?
We started with the most vulnerable. We started with the farm workers who didn’t have papers. We did that story. And then, oh my goodness, you know, this is so much worse than we realized. And then we just kind of worked our way up. We started with the farm worker, then we did the small farmer. By then, a whole entire town was out of water. So we went there and then the land was sinking, so we found a small town where the land was sinking. It was always just kind of following the journalism gods.
This is a really good visualization of the theory of income inequality, as expounded in Thomas Piketty's best-selling book Capital in the 21st Century. But you don't have to read the book to get it! All you have to do is watch the infographic. From -- of all places! -- the Wall Street Journal.