Out of the Past
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Natural Climate Variability and Global Warming
Natural Climate Variability and Global Warming
by Rick Battarbee and Heather Binney

Floods, Droughts, and Climate Change
Floods, Droughts, and Climate Change
by Michael Collier and Robert H. Webb

Ice Age Mystery
Ice Age Mystery
A Proposed Theory for Climate Change
by L.G. Bell

Amber Waves and Undertow
Amber Waves and Undertow

Peril, Hope, Sweat, and Downright Nonchalance in Dry Wheat Country
by Steve Turner


An End to Drought
by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1992 All rights reserved.

    Early spring is a mixed blessing. Like a convict let out on parole, we are released from the confines of winter, but not entirely free.
    Apple blossoms brighten limbs that would yet be barren this time of year, extending the orchardist's frost worry by two weeks.
    Greening pastures beckon hungry livestock, but ranchers have to be concerned about those dry creek bottoms.
    Spring planting is begun already and the irrigation ditches are full... for now.
    Across much of the Columbia River Basin this year marks the sixth or seventh consecutive year of drought. Most folks hereabouts, even the old-timers, have never seen it so dry. And the records of the Soil Conservation Service, with its snowpack monitoring devices, bears them out.
    Drought, according to the SCS, is defined by below average precipitation based on what happened during the last fifteen years. But when seven of those fifteen years are dry, the averages get bent. If these dry years keep up much longer there will be no more drought -- dry will be the new norm.

# Sunset through dust cloud on drought-stricken farm     Moisture is the lifeblood of this country and most of us are deeply rooted in the faith that this year's weather will follow certain patterns -- snow in winter, rain in spring, hot and dry all summer long.
    These patterns shape our climate. Change them drastically, or often, and it's like slicing open a vein. Businesses go under, animals starve, people move out, plants perish.
    Fifteen years is a mere wink in history, of course, and temperature records taken with thermometers and snowpacks measured by feet only go back a century or so. The long-term characteristics of a climate have to be gathered indirectly by measuring tree rings, fossils, glacial ice, and deep sea cores.
    Ever since the last ice age 11,000 years ago the Columbia River Basin, it appears, has been getting warmer and wetter. More precipitation has fallen on the West in this century as compared to the previous three hundred years. Winter temperatures, for the most part, have been a degree or so warmer.
    The same records suggest, however, that climates can be fickle. You can blame it on the exhaust from our cars or the flatulence of dinosaurs, but changes in weather patterns are common.
    Most U.S. climatologists now agree that global warming is for real.  If they are correct, the world's climate will be about 5 degrees warmer on average a century from now. How that will affect the weather in Wenatchee, the Owyhees or the Magic Valley, no one can say.
    Maybe we'll have to get used to seeing apple blossoms in March and dry creek beds in June. We may have to convert to more water efficient irrigation practices and plant varieties. Grazing practices, landscape tastes, even diets may have to change.
    And we may well have to change our definitions of drought, or at least of what is "normal."