Sunday, August 14, 2016

Before the Levee Breaks

Tripping the light fantastic on a steamy Wednesday afternoon, I pitched camp on an Ozark streambank, a particularly high quality natural community rich with plant life and, in the stream's riffles, brightly colored darters and several species of minnows. Mayflies that next morning were heavy above the fog line on this springfed stream, a visible thick mat of mayflies that coated every surface of my campsite. While I was enjoying a late summer morning on an Ozark stream, the forecast for my former home in South Louisiana was not as pleasant. Tropical patterns were forming, with the forecast of a 500 year flood event slated to occur on all of our rivers outside of Baton Rouge and Denham Springs. Lafayette was also ground zero for the significant rain event. But I was on an Ozark stream earlier this week with no hint of rain.

As reports came in from home this weekend, with unending rain in south Louisiana and no end in sight, I learned of thousands of homes underwater, many friends who lost everything, water rescues from rooftops a la Hurricane Katrina, rivers exceeding their flood stage by 6 ft. and more, and the rain still coming. Because I'm not down there, I don't know if the local stations are reporting about climate change and the direct correlation between these heavy rain events and the changing climates. Hell, my friends and family are without cell phone service with AT&T totally knocked out, so the prospect of major analysis is likely forthcoming, if at all. Hot meals are being delivered to the dorms since most of the roads are closed around major universities and, until today, there was a curfew in place. All because of devastating flooding.

Last month, I was privileged to read a private report (prepared for a colleague from another outfit) from climatologists from Missouri State University that included an analysis of rainfall events in Missouri since the 1950s. Because the report is not public information, I can digest it to explain that since the early 2000s, rain events in the Ozarks, especially the watershed in their study site, have become more intense. More rain over a shorter time duration, so more flash flooding. What this means for this particular watershed is that runoff is faster, more intense, with higher rainfall amounts that causes flash flooding on a regular basis. Perhaps this seems less like rocket science, like a study that shows that squirrels eat acorns, but it is a study on an Ozark watershed and I do hope that soon the information will be widely available (working on that...).

What this unpublished, non-public report shows is that heavy rainfall events have increased in frequency and intensity in the past ten years, corresponding positively to the increasing carbon levels. This huge, spinning storm that is causing catastrophic flooding in Louisiana is heading our way. Springfield has already received 3 inches of rain. Forecasts for the St. Francois Mountains country call for 9 inches of rainfall in two days. After the 10 inch-rain event in December that left Union completely underwater and caused our Ozark streams to become perennially polluted with every known and unknown sewage lagoon and pit latrine, while not forgetting all of the cattle grazing in the watersheds, this next round of flooding is less than desirable.

I'm glad I was able to visit the stream when it was still in good condition. Images from home of nice little rivers like the Vermilion and the Ouiska Chitto roiling like chocolate milk are heartbreaking. Mussel diversity was once high in these streams. The sediment and pollution spreading out throughout southeast, southwest, and south Louisiana are going to not only wreak havoc on homesteads but on wildlife habitat as well. According to weather forecasters, we should be prepared for more of this. The spinning storm is heading our way. Make sure your basements don't have boxes of books on the floor.


Mark Epps said...

Interesting climatic insights. Wishing I could live, like you, in isolated wooded areas and let my inner naturalist come out. Thx!

Allison Vaughn said...

Thanks for reading, Mark. I'm the editor of a newsletter with a wide distribution in Missouri and one of the writers I have secured for the issue on Missouri Waters is the author of the unpublished study on climate change and rainfall events in Missouri. Once we publish the newsletter in October, I'll post it on my blog. Should be a great issue. I think I'll use a picture of Big Spring Natural Area as the cover shot.