Editorial: Bearing witness

The heat is on. And the precipitation is not. That’s the story now and here in Rappahannock County.

Things could be worse. Things can always be worse, of course: there’s consolation, if not rainfall, in that.

Russia, for instance, is experiencing its worst drought in at least half a century. That country’s Hydrometeorological Center announced: “This is the first time in 50 years we’ve seen the combination of such a long period of abnormal heat and both atmospheric and soil drought.” Russia’s Grain Union asserted the drought is even worse than that, the most severe since its record-keeping started 130 years ago.

The impact on this global breadbasket has helped drive wheat prices to their biggest jump since 1973, according to Business Week magazine. Helped by the dry heat are wildfires, which have devastated almost 700 squares miles.

By contrast, Rappahannock County is experiencing “moderate drought conditions,” according to the University of Nebraska’s National Drought Monitor, which compiles and analyzes data from the National Oceanic (NOAA) and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, among other sources.

“Moderate drought” is defined as some damage to crops, pastures; streams, reservoirs, or wells low, some water shortages developing or imminent; voluntary water-use restrictions requested. Soil moisture and stream flow as low as 11-20 percentile.

And, if the past is prologue, the worst might be yet to come, if not this summer, then next year, and the years after that . . . .

A recent report from NOAA confirmed that the last three decades have brought progressively warmer temperatures worldwide. These 10-year data points are statistically significant, unlike day-to-day or even year-to-year weather patterns. The report, based not just on land-surface readings but on a wide array of data sources, including sea level rise, came to this inevitable conclusion:

“The warming of the climate system is unequivocal.”

There is, unfortunately, very little we can do here in Rappahannock County except bear witness. And perhaps relish the recollections of last winter’s record snowfalls.

Walter Nicklin