An early spring comes before the fall

Here in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, the daffodils and forsythia are in full yellow splash. An hour’s drive south, Roanoke’s roads are lined with brilliant white canopies of flowering trees. Ninety minutes northeast, in Washington, D.C., the cherry trees have started to pop, nearly a month early.

We’ll almost certainly pay for this bucolic weather later in the month, when the inevitable cold snap grasps all those premature blossoms in its mortal grip—or not, in which case we’ll pay weeks later with a bumper crop of bothersome insects. We’ve had only one significant freeze all winter, back in December, which means that barring a reprise we’ll be looking at a summer of bigger and more plentiful mosquitoes, flies, stink bugs and other pests. But there’s at least some truth in that warning about March—in like a lamb, out like a lion and vice versa—and it’s not unusual for us to have blizzards and significant snowfall well into April. One can hope.

California, on the other hand, has flipped the script with record amounts of cold, snow and rain. Los Angeles, which gets an annual rainfall of 12 inches, has been a flood zone. Yosemite National Park is closed indefinitely, the valley floor buried under nearly four feet of snow amid drifts of 15 feet or more, and more expected in the days ahead. Tahoe’s ski resorts are giddy over unprecedented amount of powder, so much more preferred than the usual heavy “Sierra cement”—but all that snow makes getting to the lodges an ordeal, and in an apparent paradox, the fluffier powder increases avalanche risks. Moreover, if a slight thawing of oncoming fronts brings more rain than snow, look for significant flooding throughout the state.

The weather, in other words, has become enormously intrusive from one end of the country to the other. It’s no longer a background phenomenon, punctuated by the occasional hysteria of a tornado: it’s very much in the foreground almost all the time, throwing one curve ball after another. It shouldn’t be a surprise—we’ve been getting warned about this for at least a couple of decades—but still there’s astonishment and disbelief. And, it should be noted, a stubborn refusal to make significant changes in response.

Consider, for example, the report out today from the International Energy Agency, which found that the world emitted more carbon dioxide last year than in any year on record dating back to 1900. Despite all the global conferences and solemn pledges to reduce such emissions, a rebound in post-pandemic air travel, as well as more cities relying on coal-fired power plants, resulted in an overall 0.9% increase in 2022. More carbon dioxide in the air means a stronger greenhouse effect, which means more heat trapped in the atmosphere, which means more extreme weather, which . . . .

And yet. A Republican-led charge this week seeks to ban retirement funds from taking environmental factors into consideration when making investment choices. Claiming Wall Street has succumbed to “woke capitalism,” the House on Tuesday voted along party lines to repeal a Department of Labor rule permitting such consideration; the closely-divided Senate is lining up for a similar vote, with across-the-aisle support from coal-mining Senator and faux Democrat Joe Manchin. The ostensible purpose of such an attack, as summarized by potential presidential candidate Mike Pence, is to safeguard “hard-working Americans’ retirement accounts.” What’s really at stake is the fear that investment funds will disinvest in fossil fuel companies.

Given the above, it’s ironic that this week also marked the release by First Street Foundation of the latest in a series of risk factors it has analyzed for real estate properties across the United States. A non-profit research group working to make public access to climate risk easy to understand, First Street previously reported on flood, fire and extreme heat trends caused by global warming; this week’ s release is titled “The 7th National Risk Assessment: Worsening Winds.” The bottom line? Tropical cyclones (hurricanes) are becoming more intense and are moving farther north, to such an extent that “over 13.4 million properties will be exposed to tropical cyclones in 30 years that are not currently.”

Poetically, hardest-hit will be the uber-conservative southern states that are most vociferous in denouncing any attempts to curb environmental despoliation, a broad swath from Texas across the Gulf states and along the eastern seaboard to North Carolina and points north, but also as far inland as western Tennessee. But the most vulnerable will continue to be the increasingly feudal state of Florida, which already is burdened with more than 80% of the nation’s hurricane risk, at $13.4 billion in annualized losses—growing to $14.3 billion a year by 2052.

All that seems very far away from the drowsy, premature spring we’re enjoying here in the Shenandoah, however short-lived it may prove. Eventually, though, the piper will collect his due. He always does. Reality bites.

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Out of the frying pan, into the fire

Maximum monthly temperature hazard in 2023, ranging to 119 degrees in the Southwest. From First Street Foundation’s 6th National Risk Assessment: Hazardous Heat

It’s been a helluva week for climate outlook–and it’s not even half over.

Mere days after Las Vegas suffered its second significant monsoon downpour within two weeks–flooding casinos and resulting in two deaths–the New York Times featured a major front-page story headlined, “The Megastorm that Could Inundate California.” Based on research at the University of California and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, the story detailed the growing likelihood that California will be slammed by a 1,200-mile-long “torpedo of moisture” that will inundate the state with as much as 16 inches of rain–and some areas with much more.

That was on Sunday. Monday, the First Street Foundation released its sixth national risk assessment, this one devoted to hazardous heat. The foundation, which says its mission is to model climate change to benefit property owners, previously analyzed flood and wildfire risks across the country. The freely available heat analysis, however, may be the most troubling. While the 121-page report, which includes two-page summaries for each individual state, is too lengthy to summarize here, suffice to say that the overall findings are visually summarized by the above map: it’s hot. It’s going to get a lot hotter. And the heat is going to last longer.

Bottom line? “Extreme Danger Days,” with temperatures over 125 degrees, will affect approximately 50 counties with 8 million people next year–and 1,023 counties with 107 million residents by 2053. Those extreme temperatures, however, will not be where you might expect: they’ll be concentrated across the middle of the country, in an area stretching from the Louisiana and Texas border north through Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois, affecting such cities as St. Louis, Kansas City, Tulsa, Memphis and Chicago. Meanwhile, the total number of “local hot days,” defined as the lowest temperature of the hottest seven days of this year for any given area, will grow to about 30 days at the same temperature in 2053 for large swaths of the South, with Florida hit hardest.

Such extreme heat has numerous implications, starting with the greater instability it creates in the weather, most notably in Midwest and prairie states already ravaged by tornadoes. Agriculture will take a hit. So will electric utilities, and nowhere more than in Texas, whose power grid is notoriously fragile even as it remains largely isolated from the larger national electric network. And, of course, there’s the whole thing about loss of health and longevity when human bodies are attacked by a brutal environment.

But the kicker is that the states with the highest odds of getting hammered by drought, flood, cataclysmic storms and extreme heat are also the states–other than California–with the highest influx of new residents. Florida, Texas, Arizona, Nevada–all have become magnets for people relocating from other parts of the country, ostensibly in search of lower taxes, more salubrious weather and less pesky government intrusion into their lives. It’s as though none of those tens of thousands of annual arrivals ever read or watched the news, or wondered where they would get their drinking water when the reservoirs are finally dry, or thought about the consequences of underfunded public services and emergency resources.

San Antonio, Phoenix and Fort Worth had the biggest population gains between 2020 and 2021, according to the U.S. Census Dept. Meanwhile, eight of the 15 fastest-growing large cities or towns by percent change were in the West — with five in Arizona — and seven in the South. More lemming-like behavior is hard to imagine.

What all this implies for RVers and campers in the years ahead is not hard to imagine. For all of the increased use of RVs as primary dwellings, most RVers and campers are indulging a discretionary behavior that isn’t essential to their well-being, which is to say, they simply won’t go vacationing in a hellscape. And those who do inadvertently end up in a scene out of Hieronymus Bosch will in most cases simply move on. Campground owners, on the other hand, will have no attractive options at all–something anyone still thinking of buying an RV park should keep very much in mind.

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