VPR Header
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Programs
Explore our latest coverage of environmental issues, climate change and more.

Spencer Rendahl: Climate Comparison

Last July my kids and I boarded a plane at Logan Airport in the early evening. We’d be arriving in Seattle around 10 pm, so I wasn’t expecting great views of the mountains. But as we flew over Washington State’s Cascade Range, the pilot got on the intercom and encouraged everyone to look out their darkened windows – for a view of wildfires raging more than 20,000 feet below.Seattle-based New York Times columnist Timothy Egan recently bemoaned record high temperatures in the Northwest, contributing to wildfires in the Olympic National Forest - normally a lush green rainforest – and turning his usually vibrant green city to a subdued shade of brown.

My brother is a fisheries educator with the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Olympia, Washington. Earlier this spring, he and his family were cross-country skiing in the Cascades at the same time I was skiing near my Connecticut River Valley home on trails with several feet of snowpack. Here, repeated blizzards had hit the northeast and shut down Boston, while my brother noted with dismay that snow in the Cascades was shockingly sparse. His observations have been borne out in data: snowpack in the Cascades is the lowest in more than half a century.

And Washington isn’t alone in suffering high temperatures and droughts. California Governor Jerry Brown has mandated state wide water-use reduction because of record drought. Thanks to high temperatures and a snowless winter, wildfires are raging in four western states. And Alaska is experiencing what may be its worst wildfires ever.

Climate experts stress that not all of this can be linked to climate change, but at least some can - and Egan notes that Washington state’s current heat wave suggests what life may be like if the earth keeps warming.

But here in New England, we’ve been experiencing the perils of too much water. According to the National weather service, Montpelier had the wettest June on record. This is causing problems for farmers and raising concerns about flooding from big storms - like Tropical Storm Irene, from which we still haven’t fully recovered. Even minor storms can wash out roads when the ground is already saturated with water.

My brother and I joke that we should build a trans-continental pipeline to send New England’s downpours 3,000 miles to the water-starved west. But it’s no laughing matter to think what it really might take at this point to preserve the two very special regions we each call home.