October 24, 2018

Our Wettest Year... EVER

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The Big Bottom suffers a flooding downpour – Photo: K. Griffith

Just about anyone who has been on the Land this year, at any of our major events or festival weekends, got rained on. And by that, I mean got rained on a LOT. Deluge Rain. Biblical Rain. Epic Rain. Wickermuck. Mud ’N’ Splash. Flood’s Rising. Big Mud. … you get the idea.

Since Beltaine, we have seen something like five out of six weeks wet at Four Quarters. Not till Stones Rising and immediately following, other than a brief bit of relief in July, did we see any real period of dry spells. Extended meaning – more than 48 hours rain free. Go mow the lawn while you can.

Where I live in Berkeley Springs, downtown got flooded three times. In the worst event in June, we lost roads, bridges, and the Cacapon Dam was overtopped and nearly breached. Ellicott City, MD had its downtown devastated by a muddy flash flood. In July, Baltimore received rainfall in the realm of 18 inches, normal is about 3.5. While I write this, from my studio window the lawn is still almost May-green in mid-October, even as leaves begin to fall. They don't seem to change color much this year, they just kind of get tired and fall off. Those of us with older houses are combating fierce outbreaks of mold in basements, kitchens, and between the walls thanks to the relentless wet conditions.

At my community’s Sun Dance, for the first time in the history of our dance, we were forced to truncate a day of ceremony due to the weather. The dance arbor was literally unsafe for the dancers. In the drum arbor, the singers’ chairs sank into a runoff-fueled bog.

WashoutAt Four Quarters, we witnessed Sideling Hill Creek repeatedly rise up to threaten The North Crook, Sweat Lodge and the Big Bottom, and begin the process of straightening out the main stem. The River Crossing to New Land was impassable for much of the season. The Big Bottom became a recurring bog with mosquito-friendly pools of standing water. This all came to a head at the end of July. Three days out from yet another critical court appearance, a five-inch downpour washed out the legally-contested culvert on Bridgeport Road on July 31st.

Three days after this catastrophic washout, the Bedford Court granted us the authority to conduct emergency road repairs. By Wednesday August 22nd the crossing was reopened to heavy service truck traffic. Unable to schedule deliveries till the road was passable, food truck delivery was delayed until August 28th, during the Stones Rising Intensive. We were all thankful when 130 full porta-potties were finally serviced!

Immediately after Stones Rising we began the real work of permanent repair to the roadway, with progress being measured in deci-kilo-bucks per day. As one example of the costs involved, the concrete sedimentation sump (pictured) cost $5000+, the concrete endwall $2k+, 80 feet of 32" culvert $3k+, crane service $3k+ and $3k+ in gravel to set these parts. $16,000 spent in one day on one part of the project.

CraneNeedless to say, the Driveway Project, and the almost incessant remediation of roads on the Land, has hungrily consumed time, energy, and human resources; and has essentially dominated construction activity at Four Quarters this season. Legal, Engineering, Permit and road construction costs for the past two seasons are now close to $200,000. The sobering numbers give one pause.

But misery loves company! If you live anywhere in the Mid-Atlantic or the Northeast, this is not particularly news. It’s been exhaustively wet. According to Climate Central:

“Many locations in the Middle Atlantic, Ohio Valley, and Upper Midwest had one of their 10 wettest summers on record, with Maryland and Pennsylvania at the heart of the summer deluge. Baltimore was among the cities in their top 10, getting more than 24 inches of rain. Massive flooding hit central and eastern Pennsylvania in July. More than 15 inches of rain fell in the town of Lebanon in July, and 12-15 inches were common monthly totals around the state capital of Harrisburg. The supercharged water cycle that comes with a warming climate is reflected in the increase in heavy precipitation. The heaviest rainfall events are getting heavier, with a 55 percent increase in the amount of precipitation falling in the heaviest events in the Northeast.”

Total precipItation September 2018 NOAAGiven the long-term trends we have been experiencing, it’s not unreasonable to be expecting more of the same in the future as our traditional expectations of the seasons are increasingly challenged by a changing environment. I can’t even suggest getting used to a new “normal” when “normal” is apparently a moving target year after year.

Deke Arndt writes at NOAA, “What does that have to do with warming? Taken individually, not a lot. But taking the larger history into context, this is a continuation of a signal we’ve seen in recent decades, especially east of the Rockies: it’s getting wetter. 2018’s rank as the wettest year on record (to date) for parts of the East just reinforces this trend.

“So, what does that have to do with warming? Again, it’s complicated, because precipitation is the end result of several atmospheric ingredients and processes, but to oversimplify: a warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapor, and an atmosphere with more water vapor can make more precipitation.”

What does it mean for Four Quarters? Given that most of our activities and sacred work takes place in the outdoors, it is becoming challenging in a number of ways. Predictions of heavy weather does impact attendance. Getting repeatedly drenched also tends to dampen people’s enthusiasm to return. I’ve been packing six to eight pairs of socks for weekend events out of self-defense. Two consecutive soaked Springs have pushed back highly-anticipated construction projects. Most telling, recovery and repair from heavy weather events, clean-up, road repair, land remediation, and replanting consume finite time, energy, and human resources. This season it culminated in a massive, and costly, culvert and road repair project. We are praying that the winter will not be as destructive.

In the meantime, on the way home from Bass Harvest, I hit Tractor Supply, shoved a crowbar into the wallet, and brought a new pair of waterproof muck boots. Going with the flow seems wise.

— Kurt Griffith


Links and ReSources

A Summer of Extremes, Climate Central.

Region saw wettest May to September period in 92 years, Kate Evans, Morgan Messenger, October 10, 2018.

It's not the heat; it's the humidity, Deke Arndt, climate.gov, NOAA, September 20, 2018.

A soggy summer for the Mid-Atlantic in 2018, Tom Di Liberto, climate.org, NOAA, 23 August 2018

– National Climate Report - August 2018, NOAA