The morning chill of an early-December "hard freeze" over the Baton Rouge area served as a mental alarm clock of sorts. Yep, the end of the year was just around the corner and I hadn't even started holiday shopping. Again.
Then I thought about the weather of the past year, and I had my distraction from the thought of an afternoon at the mall. Hallelujah!
2010 was a rough year weatherwise for much of Louisiana. A developing drought in the year's first quarter was intensified by a summer of record and near-record heat -- a double whammy that prompted the USDA to include more than half of the state in a disaster declaration. In fact, severe drought conditions still persisted for portions of northern, central and western Louisiana into December.
But wait! Not just the end of the year, but the end of the decade!
If we look back through the entire decade, 2010 seems to be a just another in a series of rough years for Louisiana agriculture. We began the decade in the throes of one of Louisiana's most intense droughts on record. Throughout the decade, we've been peppered by localized severe weather outbreaks, spells of floods and droughts . . . and then there are the tropical nightmares. It's worth repeating: even with no Louisiana 'hits' during 2010, this past decade is the most devastating decade, and possibly the most lethal, in Louisiana history. Katrina, Rita and Gustav are part of a decade in which 16 tropical systems impacted the state, more than double the average number expected during a 10-year span.
So why re-visit the past? Because the recent past is a guide for what's in store for the near future. And everyone -- from farmers, to plant operators, to mayors, even homeowners -- needs to be ready for more of the same in the next decade.
I mentioned the word weatherwise. Ben Franklin once said, "Some (people) are weatherwise, but most are otherwise." Okay, at least I think that he said something like that ... if he didn't, he should have.
My experience is that many living in the Sportman's Paradise are very weatherwise: they have a good feel about weather and watch forecasts closely. Indeed, they can be painfully tough critics, and I have an e-mailbox full of proof! But not so many are climatewise, and I suggest that it is good business to get a good handle on both.
In a nutshell, I see weatherwise as being aware of and responding to the weather forecasts: generally, what is expected in the coming days. We might even stretch that weather forecast window out to a week, even out as much as two weeks as is done by some of my fellow TV weather daredevils.
(Yes, I can hear some of you now, "Jay, you weathercasters can't even get tomorrow right, so don't talk to me about 7 to 10 days." And you wonder why I'll do just about anything to dodge the mall?)
But get out to a month, or months, or even periods of a year or more into the future -- now we are in the climate zone.
Now wait: I'm not talking about forecasting the weather for next year's May 3rd or June 8th -- I'll leave that to you dedicated readers of The Farmer's Almanac (and no, I don't have a copy!). I'm talking about getting a sense of what to expect in upcoming seasonal weather patterns.
For example, in recent years, climate "forecasters" have done a decent job of anticipating winter and spring seasonal trends along the Gulf Coast as much as three months or more in advance. Getting a feel for these long-range projections may prove useful for all kinds of planning purposes, regardless of industry or interest.
But what is the real value of becoming more climatewise?
Let's dodge the "global warming" debate -- yes, I believe that the Earth is warmer than it was 100 years ago, but in some ways the "global warming" debate has degenerated into a forum that is as much about politics as it is about climate. But climate change is real, is occurring (and has always occurred), and will continue into the future.
Are human's contributing to, even possibly accelerating, climate change? Almost certainly, but I'm not ready to open that can-of-worms either.
Regardless of the human contribution to local, regional and global climate change, Louisiana residents need to take proactive stances to be ready for whatever Mother Nature throws our way in the coming years (and decades).
Most climate scientists agree that climate change comes about over time through a series of weather "hiccups" and "speed bumps." Climate change is unlikely to be a gradual and smooth shift from one average condition to a new average. Rather, it may well be that the shift from one regime to a new climate regime comes about during periods when unusual, severe, and extreme events become more common.
Following this line of thought, both droughts and increases in flood events might be expected in a region where the climate is undergoing a long-term "readjustment." Hmmm -- seems to apply to the Gulf Coast region, doesn't it? I'd say probably so, and not just for the past ten years, but for a number of recent decades.
As for the hyper-active tropics? There remains much debate as to whether that too is a by-product of "global warming." More likely, it is a response to a long-term cycle that appears to occur within the Atlantic Basin – an example of ever-changing climate in response to changing ocean circulation. The theory is that Atlantic tropical activity experiences a modest flip-flop between two to three decades of increased storm numbers followed by a series of decades with reduced development. A lot of evidence suggests that we are right in the middle of the "up" years, which implies that elevated storm counts like we've experienced over the past 10 to 15 years can be expected for another decade or more.
These facts lead me to believe that what we've endured over the past ten years may be a good indication of what to expect over the next ten.