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A State of Transition

April 18, 2011 – Two states of which I have formerly been a resident are enduring weather that nearly defies description. North Carolina experienced 60-plus tornado touchdowns over the past weekend, a large number of them in the Raleigh area, where we used to live. Having grown up in the Midwest, I long since became accustomed to tornadoes as being representative of “typical” spring weather. However, that meant in “Tornado Alley,” a swath of prairie land that ran from Texas up through Wisconsin. While some of the usual places were hard hit this time around – I’m referring here to Oklahoma and Kansas – I don’t think of North Carolina as tornado country. However, my expectations rely upon decades of weather memory that are based on climate behavior that conformed with known patterns and trends. We are now in a transitional period, and the old rules don’t apply. Then there’s Texas. By every account, Texas weather is on a bender, the Forest Service helping to battle 700,000 acres of fires caused by tinder-dry conditions and windy spring weather. Fourteen hundred people are fighting these fires, of which there are currently 42. Some have been caused by lightning, others by careless human behavior. According to one source, as much as half the state is vulnerable to going up in smoke. Hundreds of people have been evacuated, hundreds of homes destroyed, at least 90 head of cattle killed. Weather conditions are predicted to worsen north of San Angelo, where a fire named “Wildcat” is threatening people and property. An anticipated shift in the wind will cause fire lines to become useless. This scenario, or a version of it, has played out 7,807 times during the year’s fire season. All but two of Texas’ 254 counties have been affected by fire. Gov. Perry has asked that Texas be declared a disaster area. In other state news, the Supreme Court will hear a case brought against five power companies by the states of Vermont, Connecticut, California, Iowa, New York, Rhode Island, and – on the city level - New York City, seeking ceilings on GHGE. Since the Court’s ruling in 2007, allowing the EPA to regulate air pollution, the states have been marshaling their forces. Justice Sotomayor is recusing herself, having heard the case as it made its way through the lower courts. If the court splits evenly on the case, it will have the same effect as a ruling in the states’ favor. Finally, Oregon State University scientists have released their findings regarding the ability of American forests to store carbon. It is now believed that American forests can store as much as 40 percent of atmospheric carbon, up from 30 percent. Any particular year’s weather and climate events can influence the percentage, but the consensus is that this is good news. Celebrate Earth Day. Plan to Make a Difference!

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