Friday, July 3, 2015

Hundred Year Events

Our personal neighborhood in extreme northwest Illinois has been struck many times in the last dozen years by monumental rainfall events. It is debatable whether their frequency has been intensified over previous decades. Our locality has endured four or five rainfall events in the 8 to 13 inch category. These do not compare with more widespread flooding disasters such as the 1993 and 2008 midwest events which extended over weeks.

Statistics show that disasters such as flooding have occurred throughout man’s tenure on earth. It is doubtful that weather disasters have been increasing on the planet, notwithstanding the lament of climate change enthusiasts. They claim Earth is warming and violent weather is increasing as a result. Nevertheless, tornadoes and hurricanes have been far below average in frequency for several years, while winter severity has increased in some areas. 

Hundred year storms have gained negative publicity. Such storms are defined as having a 1% chance of occurring in any year. If a so-called hundred year storm occurs one year, the same chance of another occurrence exists for the next year or the year after. After the recent severe flooding in Texas and Oklahoma, Weather Channel reported that in Oklahoma City there have been three 500-year floods in five years based on drainage codes for that particular location. Of course, these would be even more severe than the hundred year variety. Quoting such statistics can be misleading. The impact of such flooding may be lost as we inappropriately focus on interpretation of hundred year or 500-year flooding events.

Our neighborhood in extreme northwest Illinois received 13 inches of rainfall in June 2015. Even three times normal rainfall for the month did not compare with the 13 inches which fell in one night in July 2011. 

I now refocus from the “weather wow factor” to proposing that Planet Earth is resilient as are human residents of our planet. Earth has been the recipient of heavy rains, droughts, blizzards, cold snaps, heat waves, tornadoes, and hurricanes, for countless thousands of years. Just in the last million years one source calculated there have been 10000 hundred year storms. Our population has not only survived; it has actually thrived. Since 1800 world population has increased seven-fold. Modern society is thriving owing to achievements in technology and agriculture, as well as enlightened application of environmental practices.

The Creator’s Genesis mandate to “subdue the earth” has been more effectively applied in response to the disastrous weather mentioned above. Research on fatalities resulting from weather disasters in the US reveal a surprising fact. We justly grieve concerning fatal or costly outcomes of any weather disaster. However, this country has suffered less from weather related fatalities and damages from 1995-2015 than might be expected. On average there were almost 500 annual deaths nationally, a minuscule percentage compared with other deaths by carelessness or accidental injury—192,000. The damage costs from avoidable accidents or injuries also exceed weather related damages by many multiples.

The overall effect of floods is beneficial in terms of vital water distribution. For instance, the recent Texas/Oklahoma flooding has effectively ended a damaging drought in that area persisting for several years. An example of the wisdom man utilizes to manage his environment is the ongoing effort by hydrologists and geologists to replace trillions of gallons of floodwater in underground aquifers rather than permit the water to run into the ocean. The huge Ogallala aquifer is located under a broad area of the central United States. This aquifer is a geologic formation able to store huge amounts of water underground. During rainfall deficit periods, farmers could make use of the ground water to sustain normal agriculture.

Several water conservation strategies are being developed to slow the depletion of underground water from this aquifer which supplies 30% of the ground water used for irrigation in this country. This is reminiscent of recently successful stringent water conservation measures in California’s drought struck regions. We witnessed the water conservation/recycling effort of Israeli agriculture during our 2009 visit to that country.

It remains for our government authorities to implement intelligent management of flood control measures in order not to disrupt natural water storage systems such as wetlands. We must pray for the wisdom of our elected officials and offer them encouragement in their effort. We thank God for the wisdom he has given government leaders in the past few decades to restore rather than to despoil our environment.

And what of our fear of hundred year storms? We must make use of divine wisdom to prepare adequately for these events and use them to our advantage in terms of prudent management of water resources. Then we may agree with The Cornwall Alliance in their statement, “Earth and its ecosystems…are robust, resilient, self-regulating and self-correcting.” Humanity must be wise in supplementing the robust and resilient ecosystems of earth with environmental wisdom. The proposition of Isaiah to Old Testament Israel may apply to the people of God in the 21st century: “…Israel will blossom and sprout, and they will fill the whole world with fruit” (NAS).