As Cindy and I stood at our patio doors at 3:30 in the morning on Tuesday, I thought, “Here we go again.”
The 100-foot-tall red and white pines in our backyard were bent halfway to the ground and the rain was whipped into a white, sideways froth filled with branches, leaves and needles flying by at 60 miles per hour. Massive lightning bolts were creating a disorienting strobe effect, brilliantly lighting the landscape one second and plunging into cave-like blackness in the next.
As I was lost in a flashback to the catastrophic 1999 blow-down, Cindy’s voice brought me back to the present by announcing that someone was at the door.
We opened the door to the bedraggled Bagnato family, Greg and Ellen, along with their young children, Mia and Taj. Ellen was a Sawbill crew member 15 years ago and they were camping on the Sawbill Campground for the night before beginning a canoe trip.
As we hustled the bedraggled family into dry towels, they informed us that a tree had fallen on their tent, landing on Mia’s legs. Although the tent is a total loss, x-rays at the emergency room in the morning revealed that Mia did not have any fractures, just large, colorful bruises to show for her frightening experience.
We ended up with nine large trees down in the campground, including some huge white and red pines. Four of them fell within feet of people sleeping in tents.
Mia’s bruises turned out to be the only injuries from the storm in the Sawbill area, and the blow-down didn’t materialize, but both were very close calls.
Weather disaster was already on my mind, as earlier in the day I had attended a workshop on climate change hosted by the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center. The University of Minnesota, North Carolina State University and Carleton College have teamed up to study how Minnesota’s North Shore can adapt to climate change.
The workshop was attended by representatives from government, non-profits, tourism business and academics. The project will study how climate change will affect the North Shore and what strategies will help us deal with those changes as they come.
Ironically, one of the prime topics of conversation at workshop was increasing frequency of extreme weather, in the form of floods, droughts, wind storms, and wild variations in seasonal temperatures. The examples are too numerous to ignore, including the ’99 blowdown, the Ham Lake and Pagami Creek fires, the Duluth flood, the record early ice-out in 2012 and the polar vortex last winter, just to name a few.
The climate change adaptation project will be active on the North Shore over the next year, interviewing stakeholders and collecting data of all kinds. I applaud their efforts, but I also think we are far past the time for the world to come to grips with this important issue.
I often hear the argument that our economy can’t afford to slow down climate change, but it’s becoming increasingly obvious, here on the West End, that we can’t afford not to deal with climate change.