Volume 14, Issue 28 ~ July 13 - July 19, 2006

Where We Live

by Steve Carr

What’s With This Weather?

We’re looking into the cold and heartless eyes of global warming

How much stranger can our weather get? First, it’s drier than a bone for weeks on end; then it’s like Scotland in the rainy season.

Sailing almost every weekend, I saw a spring like nothing we’ve ever seen. By June, it is usually starting to get hot, dry, and the Bay is as calm as Walden Pond — but with lots of boat wakes. This June was non-stop crash and burn out on the water, with winds wailing like a banshee and waves sloshing around like the North Sea.

During the Ted Osius Cup June 10 and 11, the winds were blowing a steady 25 knots and gusting to 40. The seas were in the three-foot range and getting increasingly squirrelly as the day progressed. My position is up near the mast, where I get the full fire-hose effect, and the whole day was like trying to dance on a fish. We ripped our spinnaker, and people were getting knocked off boats like rag dolls.

It was a day on the Chesapeake that I will long remember because it reminded me how quickly you can get in over your head. On these windy days that have come to be the norm this racing season, it’s better to be safe than fast. You will break before the boat does. A valuable lesson, indeed.

The Rains of June

Then, after what seemed like months without any significant rain — and after setting all sorts of records for days without any stormy relief — the dam finally broke.

Racing in the Annapolis Annual Regatta was the same old bang-the-gong number with small-craft warnings and heavy seas. The forecast was for Tropical Storm No Name to stall off the Atlantic coast for a few days and dump copious amounts of rain accompanied by thunder and lightning.

We headed toward the starting line, over by the Eastern Shore, expecting a rough day on the water. The wind and seas complied with the forecast, but the rain stayed to the south, and the sun broiled us to crisp golden brown.

As evening settled in, the storm clouds slowly swept in from the south, lightning piercing the sky like fireworks. But still no rain. About 10pm, it finally started to rain. That was Saturday night.

Two days later, it was still coming in wave after wave of line squall. At times when there was no wind, it looked like the rain was being dumped straight out of the world’s largest bucket, accompanied by a bass drum rumble that rose with the rain’s intensity.

By Monday, the Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area was under water. The national news grabbed hold of the story, and CNN was following the disaster like Iraq and the fires out west.

Much of the federal government was closed, Metro and the MARC lines were under water, and most of the roads into the Nation’s Capital were looking like raging rivers. A mudslide covered the boardwalk on B Street at Chesapeake Beach. A 100-year-old elm tree fell near the front door of the White House. Communities from Howard County to Alexandria were being evacuated. The Capital Beltway was closed between I-295 and Telegraph Road. Sections of I-95 were impassable. And the Anne Arundel County Emergency Operation Center was activated in advance of a predicted storm surge of four feet.

In the initial 24 hours of the storm, a month’s worth of rain fell throughout the region: Annapolis 7.11 inches, Columbia 8.42 inches, the National Arboretum 7.37 inches.

What’s Next?

We know how to get prepared for a winter blizzard. We load up on milk and tp and hunker down. We are getting better at the hurricane drill, running off to Home Depot for the portable generators and window boards. But when a no-name storm can virtually shut down the entire Chesapeake Bay region without warning and turn it on its ear in a matter of 24 brief hours, what’s next?

There are places in Dorchester County where roads and vital bridges are simply gone. These routes are the inhabitants’ only links to the outside world. Will we all soon have to revert back to Colonial days and travel by boat?

The simple truth is that we are now looking into the cold and heartless eyes of global warming. Severe and unpredictable weather will be its indelible trademark. Make no mistake: It is going to change each of our lives dramatically whether Congress or the president ever wakes up.

Meanwhile, there’s always another weekend sailboat race. I think I’m going to do something I never thought I’d do. I’m going to purchase one of those inflatable life vests to wear when the winds are howling. Better safe than sorry. When I’m not sailing, I can always use it at home.

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