Wild Side: Weather gives cautionary talesCarol and I took a walk along the South Fork of the Flambeau River with our friends John and Jane Barko from Trempealeau last weekend.
By: Dan Wilcox, columnist, River Falls Journal
Carol and I took a walk along the South Fork of the Flambeau River with our friends John and Jane Barko from Trempealeau last weekend.
It was a beautiful day on the first weekend in several in northern Wisconsin without strong thunderstorms and lots of rain.
As we approached Slough Gundy, one of the noteworthy rapids on that famous river, we noticed a tag alder bush shaking next to the river. Jane asked, “Could that be a bear, a beaver or maybe an otter shaking that bush?” We approached cautiously following Badger the old dog on his leash. Badger didn’t scent anything big and furry. It was only waves from the raging river and floating logs shaking the bushes.
Normally in August, rivers in Wisconsin are low after a hot dry spell. Not this year. On July 12, a big storm rolled through Price County up north, blew down a big swath of trees across the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage, and dumped several inches of rain. Carol and I boated in to take a look at the island on the Flambeau Flowage where Ed and Diane Claycomb were camped during that storm. We were amazed that they survived because their campsite was completely covered with blown down trees, mostly big white pines.
A couple of weeks ago, we got about five inches of rain at home during the night on Aug. 10 and 11. That was after a summer with plenty of rain and the soil was nearly saturated, so much of the rainfall turned into runoff. The Kinnickinnic and Rush rivers flooded. Most of us have heard about the Holstein hatch on the Rush River on Aug. 11. Fortunately, most of those cows survived the trauma of being swept under the overtopped lower bridge in Martell and floating down the raging river.
The Kinnickinnic River set a record (since 1998) at the Clifton Hollow gage, with nearly 5,000 cubic feet per second of flow. That much flow would fill a two-car garage in less than one second.
On Thursday and Friday last week, another thunderstorm system went through northern Wisconsin, dropping more than three inches of rain. The Chippewa and Flambeau flowages were already full and the excess water went down the rivers. Water level on the Elk River chain of lakes at Phillips jumped up over a foot, flooding the boat landings and many docks. All that water flowing down the Elk River and out of the extensive bogs in that area turned the South Fork of the Flambeau River into a raging torrent of the kind normally only seen during spring snowmelt runoff.
Some people scoff about global warming. The temperature of the planet has definitely been setting records recently. Europe and Russia have been sweltering and burning. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported this month that the July worldwide land surface temperature was 1.85°F above the 20th century average of 57.8°F, the warmest July on record.
A better term than global warming is global climate change. Another way to think of it is global weather “weirding.” In our region, scientists with the National Assessment Synthesis Team, US Global Change Research Program, have predicted that global climate change will result in more frequent extremes; of hot summers, warm winters, droughts and big precipitation events. We are experiencing that already.
It’s time to get serious about reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for a changed climate. We have only this one beautiful planet to live on, so let’s be precautionary and thoughtful. The late Canadian ecologist and writer J. Stan Rowe once wisely pointed out that if carefully tended, Earth might yet produce intelligent life.
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