December 19, 2014
Coming out of the climatic closet
I have a confession to make, and it’s something that not everyone in the community would be comfortable talking about.
I quite like droughts. Actually, let me rephrase that: I quite like New Zealand droughts. Because let’s face it, New Zealand droughts are fairly non-threatening. Three months of no rain? In some places, they call that summer. In New Zealand, for those of us not dependent on tank water for our daily needs or intensive agriculture for our livelihood, it still just seems like an unusually extended spell of pleasant weather. Subject to all speculation about shifts in El Nino frequencies, Southern Ocean oscillations and the vagaries of long-term climate patterns under the increasing incidence of radiative forcing in a anthropogenic world, the thought of the coming summer being long and dry makes me, if anything, quietly anticipatory.
I felt no such sense of celebration about the drought that Australia experienced while we were living there. A drought that lasts for years, that kills drought-adapted trees decades or even hundreds of years old, that’s not much a meteorological pattern as (indeed, I called it at the time) a slow-motion natural disaster. It is, frankly, a bit frightening, a reminder that “the weather” is monstrously large and utterly, callously, unregarding of any tiny lives it might squish as it grinds out its latest whim.
But the prospect of a few months of warm sun, albeit purely spectulative at this point, and based solely on the resemblance of the last six weeks to the end of 2012 in this part of the country… That prospect, as I sit on our deck watching a northwesterly that finally looks like a proper seabreeze turning the Firth of Thames green and brown, surrounded by deep-rooted trees that will cope just fine and a selection of weeds that will be easier to kill if they’re stressed by a water shortage… That prospect I can easily live with.