Smoke Over the Malaspina Strait, Forestfires, Heat Waves and the New Dust Bowl

Smoke from the huge wildfires burning in nine western US states - Wyoming, Utah, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, California, Nevada, Oregon and Colorado - has been blanketing southern BC today and yesterday. This morning here in Black Point along the eastern side of the Malaspina Strait just south of Powell River we can only see the outline of Texada Island just a mile or so away. Satellite images and meteorologic conditions are clearly showing that the pressurized hot air sitting under the huge high-pressure dome covering almost all of the US is rushing toward the big stationary low-pressure depression circulating in the Gulf of Alaska.

Winds always blow from high-pressure domes, and this one over N. America right now is one of the largest ever in recorded weather history, towards low-pressure depressions. Always have, if you want proof just as ask the locusts who always fly with them or the smoke from a forest fire. The extreme heat and drought we've seen from this huge high-pressure dome over most of the US and parts of Canada is leaving parched fields and desperate farmers throughout much of North America's heartland.

In fact, more than 2,000 U.S. heat records - the highest temperatures 'ever' recorded in that area not simply the highest on that date - were broken just in the past week. Most of these records being broken were previously set in 1936 at the height of that 'Dust Bowl'. The hot summer of 1936 was preceded by long-term normal temperatures - nothing like the present, where the current hot spell has been preceded by persistently hotter and dryer years.

In addition to heat, drought and wind the 'Dust Bowl' of the mid-30s is also ascribed to poor farming practices, excessive tillage in particular. Modern farming practices, industrial agriculture 'experts' assure us, now safeguard us from suffering the same fate despite the unprecedented heat, drought and winds we're seeing. Others, particularly organic farmers, disagree. They point out that the widespread use of chemical fertilizers has destroyed most of the humus that once held the the continent's soil in place.

On top of that, the total war on the indigenous perennial grasses that industrial agriculture calls 'weeds' has obliterated almost all of them that still grew in the hedgerows and ditches back in the 30s' So are we, and the central North American farmlands, better off now that we've bought into the 'better living through chemistry' mantra that Dow chemical fed us back when i was a kid? Or are we "heading for hell in a bucket" as my grandfather who lived through the last 'Dust Bowl' was fond of saying?

Climatologists argue that while there's certainly nothing unexpected in periodic record-breaking temperatures. But with over 4,500 records having been broken in this heat wave, and still counting, the rate records are being broken can't be explained away by coincidence."There's a randomness to weather, but what we're seeing is loading of the weather dice to the point where sixes are coming up 10 times more often," says Michael Mann, director of the Earth Science Center at Penn State. "If you were gambling and you saw sixes coming up 10 times more often you'd start to notice." So i might as well just enjoy the smell of smoke over the Malaspina, it's the smell of progress eh.