Rain, Snow, and Longevity
The artwork above catches mist rising off a glimmering reservoir at sunset. Water is the key to life; that’s why we call our home the blue planet. We need water. We covet it, saving the planet’s lifeblood in reservoirs and subterranean aquifers. But the truth of the matter is, there isn’t enough water to go around. At least, not enough fresh water to satisfy our needs. The World Wildlife Organization estimates about 2.7 billion people suffer from water insecurity. This past summer, water levels at Lake Mead, one of the United States’ largest man-made reservoirs, hovered at 1,040 feet. If the water level drops another 145 feet, the reservoir will reach “dead pool” status, spelling disaster for millions of people across Arizona, California, and Nevada.
“Dead Pool” refers to conditions where the reservoir behind Hoover Dam would cease to provide any downstream water to the Colorado River. This would be extremely bad news for southernmost California.
California has been in drought conditions for the better part of a decade, but due to a seemingly incongruous set of weather events, large portions of the State are now underwater as a series of Pacific storms pound the West Coast. Deep snowfalls cover the Sierra Nevada, and widespread flooding has created severe problems in Northern California. An atmospheric river is sending moist air from the tropical Pacific Ocean to the doorsteps of California’s residents. Some people refer to these systems as the Pineapple Express. When you are in a long-term drought, any relief is a blessing. But the weather events unfolding on the West Coast are not necessarily the end of the drought. Weather changes quickly, but climate change represents a slow drift of underlying conditions.
Weather is a short-term phenomenon, but climate change refers to the long-term trajectory of fundamental changes in climatic conditions. While this seems a rather obvious distinction, it still passes over the heads of many people. Our former President, the orange emperor, Donald J. Trump, liked to refute global warming whenever the weather shifted to a cold snap. Ignorance is a lack of knowledge and is curable through reading and studying. Stupidity is when you embrace your own ignorance as a way of life.
Side Note — California’s Big Rain
California’s great flood of 1862 resulted from a prolonged battering of the West Coast by a series of atmospheric river storms. During December of 1861 and January of 1862, areas from Oregon to San Diego were inundated with rain and snow from the Pineapple Express.
Over 43 days, the equivalent of 10 feet of rain fell on California. The precipitation came in the form of both rain and snow. The USGS estimates this series of super-storms produced precipitation amounts seen only every 500 to 1000 years. The rain was so heavy it melted many of the existing adobe brick homes in the region into piles of mud.
The Central Valley of California became an inland sea stretching 300 miles from north to south and 20 miles across. The water was 30 feet deep in some areas.
The culmination of this event was a blast of very warm air, which melted the high mountain snowpack. Conditions were already dire from heavy flooding caused by the rains, and the additional influx of meltwater from the mountains created a catastrophe. Whole towns disappeared under the floodwaters, and a quarter of the State’s 800,000 cattle perished. The Great Flood of 1862 was the worst disaster in California’s history. The cost of such a storm in today’s dollars is estimated at $725 billion.
CNN’s Kristen Rogers writes, “drinking enough water is also associated with a significantly lower risk of developing chronic diseases, a lower risk of dying early or lower risk of being biologically older than your chronological age, according to a National Institutes of Health study published Monday in the journal eBioMedicine.”
Science uses measurements, observations, and statistical analysis to develop theories, so in this sense, it is always speculative to some degree, relying on the ‘weight of evidence.’ Nevertheless, we are water-based creatures, and there seems to be some logic in the idea that retaining sufficient water to lubricate our innards is sensible. I am certainly guilty of often neglecting my daily water rations.
So let’s resolve to drink more water, use less of it on our lawns, and stay off the roads when they are underwater.