Not Repeating, But Rhyming

China and western Europe have drought. The previous year had flooding and cold. Eastern Europe alternate hot and cool. Parts of North America are dry, then drenched, while other parts get warm for extended periods. La Niña has dominated the ENSO pattern in the Pacific for two years now, and may go neutral or shift to El Niño after February.

We’ve seen this before. The 1200s and early 1300s, the early 1600s, low solar energy output augmented by a bunch of tropical volcanoes going off, with the Italian volcanoes and Iceland’s Katla tossing out their own contributions, caused a massive climatic downturn in the northern hemisphere that led to some of the worst-for-humans weather patterns in centuries. Cold and wet, hot and dry, floods and rotting crops, summers with hard frosts in June, droughts that dried the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, plague and other disease outbreaks, civil unrest and regional wars . . . The Seventeenth Century stank worse than rotten eggs and a dead cow in a confined space in August. And it wasn’t because of CO2 or the internal combustion engine. It was the internal combustion of the sun and some volcanoes.

El Niño and the North Atlantic Oscillation are patterns. They don’t repeat on set schedules, because there are far too many variables, only a handful of which climate and weather people are 100% sure about. To make things more complicated—as if Nature needed help!—there are connections between the snowfall and rain in East Africa and the El Niño pattern. We just have no way to know how it works, but we know it is there because of the enormous Nile flood calendar. Climate specialists can cross-reference written and proxy data from South America and Southeast Asia with the Nile flood records, and there is a clear pattern.

What we can’t predict are volcanoes. A massive volcanic eruption in what is now Indonesia probably played a major role in the weather shift that triggered the rodent population explosion that led to the Plague of Justinian as well as the cold, wet, stormy weather that battered north-western Europe in the 500s. Nor could we predict the spate of tropical volcanoes in the 1300s and 1600s, or the Year Without a Summer (Mt. Tambora, tone it down!) The right volcano in the wrong place can cool things considerably. Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines dropped global temps by 1-2 degrees C for a year or so.

Nor can we pinpoint forecast what will happen exactly where. Eastern Europe might be slightly above average while Western Europe and Britain freeze. Or bake. A heavy winter with lots and lots of snow might be followed by a hot summer and drought. We can guess trends based on recorded and past oceanic temperatures and winds, but all forecasts are odds. My part of the country has good odds of reverting to average-for-the-past-thirty-years rainfall if next year is an El Niño, because that shifts the storms patterns south, more directly over this area. But that’s averages, not “RedQuarters will get 22 inches of rain between February and November.”

So if I seem a bit mellow about the latest “sky isn’t falling and it’s all the fault of the Global North minus China,” it’s because I’m looking at the long patterns. No, it isn’t any comfort when my water bill skyrockets as I try to keep the grass not-entirely-dead or the gas bill zooms because of Snovid ’21: Part 2 the Sequel. (We only got down to -4 F, with windchills of “miserable.” And up here we had rolling four-hour blackouts on a schedule, not the weeks without power like down-state.) Nor do I envy Europe if the predicted effects of the Tonga volcanic eruption do cause colder weather on top of the usual chill. Is it all mankind’s fault? Only if we’ve figured out how to trigger volcanic eruptions, or how to dim the sun, and I do not refer to adding fine particulates to the atmosphere, or putting mirrors in space to reflect “excess” solar energy.

I still don’t like drought, or blizzards, though.


17 thoughts on “Not Repeating, But Rhyming

    • Not really. With my luck, I’d make a grand pronouncement and a new-to-science volcano under Antarctica’s ice sheet would erupt, crack the ice sheet, and send everyone into a tizzy. Again. 🙂

      • Well, it does appear that more geo-heat is rising under Antarctica than in years for which we have records. And something solid is moving around in earth’s ‘liquid’ core, seen with improved geo-sonar tech.

        We have a chaotic system whose inputs we are still learning, and whose state variables we only think we have identified. But someone who demands drastic action will take any portal to his planned storm.

  1. An el Nino would be wonderful in the Pac NW. Last winter was dry enough that the dehumidifier got put away months early, and though April was damp, we’ve had very little moisture since then. (And even then, those rains helped the fine fuels to grow, while doing little for the trees. Sigh.)

    OTOH, we’re merely in “Extreme” drought, rather than the “Exceptional” we had earlier in the year. Even the thistles weren’t growing well.

  2. Here where I currently live in eastern Midwestia, it’s been extra wet with cool summers for four of the past five years. And last year was cooler and damper than normal, just not to the ridiculous degree of the other four. For reference, ’18, ’19 and ’20 each had record total rainfalls. My new home was built not on dirt, not on mud, but on soup. Thank goodness last year was closer to “normal”, so we could finally landscape the yard and add drainage. As for temperatures, here we are at the last day of August, and so far we have had a grand total of one day in the 90’s. I grew up here with summer temperatures routinely in the 90’s, and occasional days in the low 100’s.

  3. I’d love to get an El Nino this winter. The last couple of winters have been dry, and all the spring rains did was to let the fine fuels grow. So far, we haven’t had any bad wildfires in our area, but it’s a long time until any rains are likely to show up. The good news has been a lower incidence of thunderstorms in the counties east of the Cascades.

  4. I think it would be grand, if Greenland turned green again, green and warm enough for subsistence farming and grazing, like it was when the Vikings settled there.
    I spent a year in Greenland, at Sondrestrom AB. Any change that would warm up the place would be for the better.

  5. Droughts are bad, no doubt about it, it has been quite some time since we have had any appreciable rain on the eastern side of Washington and every sunny hot day has me looking for smoke from a brush or forest fire. That being said, the global repercussions of warming a degree or two are a lot less severe than if the planet cooled down a degree or two.

    • *ear perk*

      I’m from the Methow, for the late 90s. (formative, but don’t go back much)

      So you got my prayers for things to go well, the fires SUCK.

      • And I thought Edwall was small. Methow is even smaller. Beautiful up there though. So far we have been very blessed with only one fire in the area and that was put out within a day or so. Hope our luck (and people not doing stupid things) continues.

  6. It seems as if no matter what the weather does, it’s going to be bad for somebody someplace. This is normal for planet Earth, is it not?

    • Pretty much, but when an entire hemisphere (north or south) is afflicted, that means something large is in progress. The 1600s hammered everything north of the equator pretty badly, and the few records we have for the Southern Hemisphere suggest that they had a few problems, too.

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