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The Mast-Head: Fire Weather

Thu, 07/20/2023 - 09:48

The moment I understood that the effects of sea level rise and worsening storms were here and now and would not be the next generation’s problem was during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. I have written about that instance before, but it is important, I think, to acknowledge that our climate reality has shifted from a sense that it could happen here to it actually is happening here already.

It was clear that Sandy was going to be a serious storm, but there was no warning that predicted just how bad it really would be. That morning, my friend Jameson Ellis and I tried to strap a waterproof game camera to a tree to make a record of the blow — but by then everything was moving and there was nothing to attach it to. Instead, we peered over the edge of the low bluff. Yellow water raced parallel to the beach. There were no real waves, just the constant rushing water within a foot or two of overtopping the bluff and flowing into the freshwater marsh a few dozen paces inland. We backed away, then went into the house to move my tools from the basement to the second floor, in case the water penetrated that far.

The past few weeks have felt like that, too. First came the fires sending smoke from Canada, then record heat. Surprise rain in New Hampshire, Vermont, and mainland New York led to catastrophic flooding on a scale not seen in the region since Hurricane Irene in 2011.

Haze on Monday and Tuesday here on the East End led to a dry cough and scratchy throat. Others have had headaches on and off for days.

Fire weather — dry, hot, windy conditions — is a growing problem in many parts of the world and will become more common in some places as climate change gets worse. Sandy was a hint or a whisper about what is to come along the coast; the smoke from Canada is a warning at the top of its voice.


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