El Niño vs. The Blob
December 4, 2015
With Deer Valley’s opening this weekend, the area ski resorts are up and running. The opening has been pretty typical of the last several years. It’s certainly better than last year when it was too warm to make much snow. It’s been very cold, and they have been able to blow snow like there is no tomorrow. The result is pretty good skiing for this early. They are getting more terrain open every day, and now that the Canyons base is also open, the traffic is spread out. So it’s been pretty good.
Of course we expected more. This is an "el Niño" year. Not just any el Niño, but a Godzilla el Niño, the biggest el Niño event since the winter of 97-98, potentially bigger. The el Niño is a weather phenomenon that results from a big patch of warm water in the Pacific that is supposed to shift the jet stream around, with the result that the parts of the world are much wetter than normal, and Australia catches on fire. All through September and October, weather reporters were foaming at the mouth about the coming el Niño. It is no coincidence that the local TV weather report is sponsored by people selling snow tires.
After a very dry November, we are now deep enough into winter that el Niño ought to be making an appearance. There was a 1,000-year rain event in California. Texas has been hosed. So far, at least locally, el Niño has been el Busto. The biggest storm has been generously reported as six inches.
There are a million articles online about el Niño and each carries a set of weasel-worded forecasts, with a lot of "maybes" attached. But an emerging story is that el Niño’s arch-nemesis, "the Blob," has suddenly appeared in the northern Pacific. The Blob is another pool of warm water in the wrong place. Nobody has studied the Blob before, but the Blob is to el Niño as Lex Luthor is to Superman. The Blob wasn’t there during the 97-98 el Niño, allowing el Niño to slam us with almost double the average snowpack. This time, the Blob is lurking out there, ready to strike at el Niño when we need him the most. The Blob may force el Niño to take a more southerly track, providing a very wet winter for the southern US, and leaving the northern tier of states dry. And Utah is always in the gray area. We are smack dab in the middle of the battle ground in the fight between el Niño and the Blob.
Will el Niño prevail, and send a thick blanket of snow to our dried-out mountains? Or will the Blob’s evil scheme succeed and deprive us of a super winter that we deserve after all these years? It’s a bare knuckle, no-hold-barred, submission cage match, two warm water areas will enter and only one will leave. It’s a perfect satellite TV pay-per-view event on the Weather Channel.
On a grander scale, world leaders are in Paris for what is called the COP21 meeting. It’s a worldwide conference on climate change. Cable news anchors breathlessly describe it as the very last chance to save the planet, unless you listen to the other cable news channels where the event isn’t even happening—though it was surely mentioned somewhere in Hillary’s deleted emails. The goal is to see if the world can agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to hold global warming to a 2-degree increase.
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Two degrees isn’t enough of a swing to trip my thermostat and cause the furnace to come on. Even accounting for it being two degrees Centigrade instead of Fahrenheit, it’s not huge. But on the global scale, it will require big reductions in the use of fossil fuels. For the big polluters, like us, it means big changes in the way we produce electricity, transportation, and heat. For the half of the world still living in mud huts, it seems to mean that they shouldn’t count on installing air conditioning any time soon.
The 2-degree increase is presented as a tipping point. Once we are 2 degrees hotter, the glacial melt, sea-level increases, and general desertification become irreversible. The polar bears drown, and high tide will put water in the lobbies of beachfront hotels. Bananas will grow in Manitoba, and a billion people move inland to higher ground. The COP21 meeting is depicted as our last chance to save the planet. Now or never; this week or die. If they don’t reach an agreement, we are cooked. So surely the nations of the world will do the right thing, and take necessary actions to solve this problem. Or not.
Sorry, Bangladesh, but we have driveways to heat.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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