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Born on Earth Day 23, Bay Weekly Turns 24 on April 22

Just how different is now from then?

When you take time to count, thoughts start tickling your brain.
    That sequence — 22-23-24 — which I hadn’t noticed until I wrote it down, could start its own numerological train of thought.
    Here’s another number: 1,219. That’s how many editions of Bay Weekly we will have made in the 24 years since we published Vol. 1 No. 1 on Earth Day 23, April 22, 1993.
    What do all those issue amount to? Where did all those years go? How is now different from then?
    I was coming up with more questions than answers until I bumped into Victoria Coles’ research into changing Chesapeake times.
    We are in the midst of change, Coles told me from her at Horn Point Laboratory in Cambridge, part of the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science.
    Coles and a couple of other researchers, Ralph Hood and Kari St. Laurent, have been “thinking about what people and organisms actually feel: daily weather, 10 or 15 warm days and their cumulative stress on people and environment,” she said.
    They found plenty of answers. But they had to look further than a mere 24 years.
    “In shorter times like 25 or 50 years, you start to see natural climate variability that overshadows long trends,” Coles told me.
    Coles’ team went back 114 years, to the beginning of the 20th century.
    From that perspective, they documented patterns that may feel familiar.
    Summers really are hotter.
    We suffer through 30 more “tropical summer nights” each year now than our ancestors did 100 years ago. On tropical nights, temperatures stay above 68 degrees.
    Maryland is feeling the heat more than Virginia, whose increase was only 20 days, while ours was 40, Coles explained. Since Bay Weekly went into business, we’ve added 10 of those insufferable nights when, without air-conditioning, you never cool off. Your clothes stick to you, your skin feels clammy and you toss and turn.
    That’s only one way we feel the difference.
    “It impacts human health,” Coles said. “When nights are not cooling, impaired immune systems really struggle.”
    Implications extend beyond human health to energy use and crop yields.
    Meanwhile, cold is lessening.
    “Since 1917,” Coles said, “frost days per year have dropped by a full month.”
    “This longterm trend,” she noted, “could be quite different for any given 25-year period because of natural climate variability.” But it could also have given our last quarter-century a week or eight fewer frost days. How does that accord with your experience? Maybe you even kept records.
    Chesapeake Country has grown wetter as well as hotter. As a region, we get about 41⁄2 more inches of rain per year than fell a century ago. Again, Maryland got the lion’s share, a full six inches. Intensity is increasing, too, rising by 10 inches per year (and six in Maryland) in “heavy precipitation events,” Coles said.
    All these changes amount to a longer growing season, 17 days more in Maryland over the past century.
    With all this change comes — no big surprise “lots of variability.” Like this year, Coles noted, “when we saw magnolia blooms get frost killed.”
    Each of those changes has huge consequences that can make the future ever more different and, by our old habits, more difficult to manage. “Agriculturally,” she says — and in so many other ways — “it makes it hard to plan.”
    I’m planning Bay Weekly’s 1,220th issue for April 27, nonetheless.
    Coles and her colleagues hope we will do more.
    “Our point here,” she wrote, “was to talk more about what we’ve been seeing in a way that might convince people to take actions that would increase their own personal and community resilience.”
    That’s what Bay Weekly is about. Every week, I try to take that message home, just as you do.
    Learn more: https://tinyurl.com/changingchesapeake.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher
email editor@bayweekly.com, www.sandraolivettimartin.com