Saturday, January 19, 2008

Tipping point.

When I was growing up and lived in Atlanta GA, I vividly recall that each year between the second grade and the sixth grade, we’d have at least one good snowfall every year. It was no big deal when I’d awaken to find the schoolyard beneath several inches of snow. I owned a sled in those days--we had enough snow so that my parents felt that the investment in a good sled was worth the money. And I certainly put that sled to use. One winter storm that was severe enough for snow to lay in some thickness for several days, I ran the sled until I broke it from repeatedly wrecking at the base of a very steep hill.

Just a few years ago, I was at a local dry goods store near Huntersville NC that was closing its doors after almost 100 years of continual business. It was in a big, old, wooden structure that had served as a general store for ten decades. Just inside the front door I was examining a wooden pillar rising up from the porch. Etched there in pen and lead were various records inked or penciled by various store employees over the years. Every time there was a measurable snowfall, the folk would write it on the wooden pillar. I stood there reading back through the decades, and it was shocking how common heavy snowfall had been in years past, and how utterly rare they were today.

Looking at those crude records, I saw that as late as the early 1970s, the area would commonly be covered in snowstorms. A six-inch snowfall was barely worth noting, but there were dozens and dozens of those. Even storms that dumped nearly a foot seemed to come at least once per year until the late 50s. But after that, the big storms came less and less often, and even moderates snows began to taper off.

And, now, today, it rarely snows in the Charlotte area, at all. We get a dusting during the average winter these days. About once every ten years we’ll see a heavy storm with a foot or so. (I’ve seen two of those since moving here in 1980.) When snow comes to Atlanta, now, it makes the news even on the national level. All for a place that once saw snowfalls every year, that once was a place where kids owned sleds—kids who could look forward to using those sleds each winter.

Scientists keep warning of a “tipping point” when the climate will have irrevocably changed, and when there will be no way to repair the damage we’ve done to our very atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels. From the evidence I’ve seen in my mere fifty years, I can safely say that we probably passed such a tipping point when I was about twelve years old.


Our single pathetic snowfall (February 1) of 2007.

No comments: