Weather And History

We Americans tend not to think much about the weather. Southern Californians think even less about it. But we often lose sight of how critically important the weather is. Consider:

  • About 70,000 years ago, there was a massive volcanic explosion in Indonesia that almost wiped out the entire human race.
  • In the early days of the American Revolution, rain and wind on August 27, 1776, and thick fog combined with an unusual northeasterly breeze in the Hudson River channel on the night of August 28-29, 1776 delayed the ability of the British navy to coordinate an attack on the fledgling Continental Army with the redcoats. Had the fog lifted only a few hours earlier, the numerically superior and far better-trained British would surely have stormed Washington’s camp, overwhelmed the patriots, and nipped the American Revolution in the bud; America might still be an east-of-the Appalachian province of the British Empire, and George Washington would be mentioned by Her Majesty’s subjects with the same tone of voice reserved for Guy Fawkes.
  • In 1788, France was struck with two massive hailstorms. Those storms wiped out most of the wheat crop. The result? Mass starvation on top of an already-bankrupt state, which could not buy food to make up for the shortfall. Without those hailstorms, this guy might today be His Most Christian Majesty, King Louis XX of France.
  • A drought in 1665 led directly to the Great Fire of London in 1666. Perversely, this was probably good for England because it allowed the city’s emerging scientific leaders, men like Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke, and
  • The repeated wind storms and prolonged drought in the southern Midwest of the 1930’s created dust storms so vast they blocked out visibility in places like New York and Boston, devastated the agricultural industry of nearly the entire country, likely prolonged the Great Depression by ten years, and spurred on a massive intra-national migration from places like Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri to California.
  • In the middle of the thirteenth century, Kublai Khan, a successor and descendent of Genghis Khan, would have invaded and likely conquered the islands of Japan had his fleet not been grounded by two successive monsoons.
  • The British beat the French at two critical battles — Agincourt and Waterloo — because the night before both battles, there were heavy rains that bogged down the heavy French military. At Agincourt, the armored knights were rendered vulnerable to longbow bombardment by thick mud. At Waterloo, Napoleon was delayed in moving his artillery into position by several hours because he had to solve the problem of moving them through the mud, which allowed Wellington time to rendezvous with a Prussian force, giving him a significant numerical advantage that proved decisive.
  • The Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BCE would likely have succeeded in conquering everything from Thessalonica to Sparta had the Persian army been able to rendezvous with the navy. As it was, a storm delayed the navy, which got wiped out later by the Athenians, while a Spartan-led coalition fought a delaying action and war of attrition to force the land forces to turn around and go home.
  • If Hurricane Katrina hadn’t wiped out New Orleans in 2005, who knows? Maybe a significant portion of the American electorate wouldn’t have got the idea that the Bush Administration was horribly incompetent and John McCain would be President today.

Why do I mention these interesting historical tidbits about weather? Because California is still in a drought. Everyone is hurting right now, I know. But there are two places in the United States that have been hit particularly hard by the recession. One is Michigan, because it is so heavily dependent on the auto industry. The other in California, because so much paper wealth has evaporated from our real estate.

If we had thriving industries, we might be able to make up for that, but we are in our third consecutive drought year, which disables the single largest industry in the state, which is agriculture — and which diminishes the value of residential real estate because it threatens to making providing water to all of the homes in California that much more difficult. The agricultural industry is one that can rebound pretty easily — people have got to eat — if it gets enough raw material, water in this case, to make its products.

As I learned today, water that falls in the form of rain on the floors of valleys and basins generally is not usable later, so that water is wasted. But rain and especially snow in our mountains is the key to recharging our ground water, our rivers, and our lakes. Without enough rain, we continue our drought conditions, and produce less food and our farmers and agribusinesses make much less money than they would with bountiful harvests.

I’m told that we’re in for about two weeks of rain. If that rain turns in to snow in the mountains — both the San Gabriels and the Santa Susannas down here around Los Angeles and more importantly, along the west face of the Sierra Nevadas — we might just break the drought and have a normal snowpack. This will water our lawns, mitigate the decline of real estate prices, and reinvigorate our farms. If California can snap out of its recession, this will have a significant bouying effect on the rest of the country — hell, we Californians might even start buying GM’s and Fords again (and start manufacturing some of the parts used to build them again) if we stop losing so many jobs because the agricultural industry starts ramping up and creating wealth once more.

So consider for a moment that all of the talk of stimulus packages and governmental budgets, ajustment to tax rates, and the effect of a new leader on the country and the world, all of that — it might all be of minute significance as compared with the question of whether the Sierra Nevada Mountains get a good coat of late-winter snow over the next two weeks or whether 2009 will be another drought year for America’s largest agricultural production region.

Think snow.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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