Fires and floods

After our departure from Virginia on Monday Tim and I continued our trip to Wyoming. We stopped in western Iowa on Tuesday and finally arrived in Greybull, Wyoming Wednesday night (actually, Thursday morning) after a harrowing crossing of the Bighorn Mountains through heavy clouds with 5-foot visibility, and a snowstorm, at 1:00 am. While that dominated my attention at the end of the trip, there were other sites along the way that were noteworthy.

Just south of Sioux City, IA we crossed the Missouri River on US20. Following on the heels of the recent mess along the Mississippi River, the Missouri is now in flood. This is causing all kinds of problems in Sioux City, but it was clearly visible further south where we crossed the river, both along the banks (above) and in the fields in the flood plain:

The flooding in this spot isn’t actually too bad at the moment, with the flooding limited to some fields. Below on the left is a Google Earth image of the area we were passing through, and on the right is the same image with the areas we could see flooded indicated in blue (but just what we could see while passing by at 60 mph):

Upon arriving in Greybull, we found the flooding extends there as well. According to some of the residents I’ve talked to, the Big Horn River has rarely been this high:

But the worrisome thing is in the distant background of this picture. Even with all the flooding, much of the winter snow pack has not yet melted, suggesting that more flooding is on the way:

We saw more than flooded rivers, however. On Tuesday, we watched a sunset that was beautiful, but which had ominous implications:

The brownish-red haze is smoke from forest fires, similar to what we saw in Jacksonville last month but at higher altitude. What’s remarkable is that I took this photo in Des Moines, IA, but the smoke was coming from a huge fire in eastern Arizona, almost 1,000 miles away! Two of the Arizona fires are among the largest ever recorded in the state, and their smoke plumes are continental in size as can be seen on this map (from NOAA, via Wildfire Today).

Any climate scientist will warn that an individual weather event cannot be directly linked to climate change; the relationship between climate and weather is statistical in nature. Even so, for North America increased spring flooding and more arid and fire-prone conditions in the southwest are among the common predictions of climate change models. It’s likely that events such as these (as well as the recent rash of tornados) will become increasingly common in the years to come, especially in the absence of any obvious political will to reduce carbon emissions. Even so, on our trip we also saw indications that at least some communities are trying to help the situation:

Over the next few days I’ll be taking care of various preliminary duties related to the excavation, as well as trying to complete some manuscripts for submission. If all goes well, we’ll begin digging early next week.

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4 Responses to Fires and floods

  1. mike says:

    wish josh and i could be there – maybe next year 😦

  2. Grenda says:

    Will you be going to Shell?

  3. Alton Dooley says:

    We’re not staying in Shell, but we’ll be at Dirty Annie’s quite a bit. We had dinner there tonight.

  4. Grenda says:

    Oh how I long to be there…..

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