Probably, you’re hot right now. Or soaked. Or in the dark. Or frightened. Or all of the above. Phrases like “ring of fire” have entered the weather lexicon beside “heat dome,” “polar vortex,” “atmospheric river” and “bombogenesis” (also known as a “bomb cyclone,” because that isn’t terrifying or anything) to try and explain the bedlam weather affecting basically every one of the contiguous 48 states.
That’s cool, I guess; I’ve always been a Johnny Cash fan, and I love the Social Distortion cover. It requires electricity to hear them, though, and for about 500,000 people in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois, that’s not an option at present. The power is out for the foreseeable future. There was a tornado warning during rush hour in Chicago, and wind speeds were clocked over 80 miles per hour as storms swept the region. One storm near Fort Wayne was almost 70,000 feet tall.
“The heat dome is centered near Nashville,” reports The Washington Post. “It has established dozens of high temperature records since it first formed late last week over Texas and the Southwest. Temperatures soared to as high as 123 degrees in Death Valley, Calif., while Phoenix hit 114 and Las Vegas 109 over the weekend.”
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Meanwhile, the Post adds, many cities set high-temperature records on Monday:
Austin and San Antonio made it to 105…. Lincoln, Neb. (with a high of 103 degrees), Columbia, S.C. (103), Austin (102), St. Louis (100), Charlotte (98), Nashville (97), and Louisville and Paducah, Ky. (both 97) set June 13 records Monday. North Platte, Neb., hit 108 degrees — not just a daily record, but the highest temperature ever recorded there during the month of June.
Yellowstone National Park is closed because large parts of it are flooding and eating houses. Roads through the park have been obliterated, bridges have collapsed, with mud and rockslides battering what’s left. Park visitors have been ordered to evacuate, but there is no accounting for how many may be trapped in the back country. All entrances have been closed.
“The US Geological Survey on Monday said the Yellowstone River at Corwin Springs stage increased by about 6 feet in the past 24 hours,” reports Axios, “which is above the National Weather Service’s flood stage. In fact, it rose to an unprecedented level, over 2 feet higher than its previous all-time record flood in 1918, according to the NWS.”
According to The New York Times, the weather-related battering has cashiered a significant portion of the park for the remainder of the tourist season, with no expectation of change in sight:
“Devastating rain and mudslides that tore out bridges, flooded homes and forced some 10,000 people to evacuate will keep the northern reaches of Yellowstone National Park, one of the nation’s most-visited natural wonders, cut off to tourists for the rest of the busy summer travel season. And officials warned that more rain and flooding could be on the way.”
And then there are the fires, massive ones, again, now spread over six different states. In this, the contiguous 48 do not stand alone; Alaska is currently enduring 23 significant infernos. In places like Arizona, California and New Mexico, the fires are being fueled by the aforementioned record-setting heat that has exacerbated an ongoing multistate drought of historic proportions.
The existential question of water availability is officially pressing, and no longer merely relegated to the someday-maybe corner. Towns in multiple states are running out of water, and Lake Mead in Colorado — the once-massive reservoir providing water to some 20 million people — has almost ceased to exist. In Utah, the Great Salt Lake is drying up, setting the stage for clouds of arsenic dust to blow in the wind from the dry lake bed.
Chalk it up to anthropogenic (Read: we did this to ourselves) climate disruption, the monster that was under the bed for years before it finally blasted through the mattress and took over the room. The evidence of human-made climate change is now so brazenly obvious that the denial camp has moved from “It’s not real” to “It can’t be fixed,” marking another milestone in their eternal quest to be not one bit helpful in salvaging the situation if there’s still a buck to be made from fossil fuels.
Here’s how it works for much of the west: Drought leads to lower and occasionally nonexistent snowfall in the mountains. That accumulated snowfall, back when it happened, would melt as the season warmed and feed water to the various states. Now, the absence of snow leads to parched summers. When there is snow, the extreme heat causes it to melt too quickly, leading to flooding calamities like the one currently lashing Yellowstone.
“Suffice it to say,” climate reporter Dahr Jamail wrote in Truthout in July of 2019, “all of us now, if we live long enough, are likely to become climate refugees at some point … whether it be from lack of food and water, rising seas, wildfires, smoke, or extreme weather events. For many, their time as climate refugees has already begun.”
The future is now, and it is hot, thirsty, windy and dangerous. This truth is baked into tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow again. It will not get better. How much worse it gets depends, in an ever decreasing measure, upon us.