That’s what my lawn looks like in the middle of July. In many past years the grass is dry and going into dormancy, its natural response to the hot and dry weather of mid-summer.
Not this year. Our lawns are green and growing. The landscape has the lushness of spring. It has rained nearly every day of the last week. Someone may say it is just a weather pattern, like the hot weather in the west. While there is truth to that, climate scientists say the impact of a warming climate is an intensifying of these patterns. In the case of Central Ohio, where I live, we are in the fifth year of wetter than usual weather. Average rainfall in Columbus is 39.7 inches. Over the past four years the rainfall here has been:
What I have observed is more rain events with heavy downpours with risks of everything from flooded basements to more widespread flooding. This corresponds to the predicted effects of climate change for our region. Sometimes, those rain events are dramatic–high winds, tornadoes, more lightning strikes.
Temperatures in Ohio have risen 1.2 to 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the last hundred years. While summers are wetter, we are also seeing more days over 90 degrees. The growing season is longer, I would estimate by 10 days on each end. While we have more rain, generally, we are having less snow and warmer winters.
Compared to some parts of the country, we are relatively fortunate. We don’t have the hurricanes of the southeast or the hot and dry weather and fire seasons of the west.
These are the kinds of things I think about given the changes we are seeing in our climate:
Water drainage is the big one. It begins with the gutters and downspouts on my house. With heavy downpours making sure these are clear and adequately can handle the water coming off the roof. Are all the drains to our street clear? Is the drain outside the landing to the backdoor on our lower level clear? Is the sump working properly (we replaced it last summer after bailing the pit during a heavy rainstorm)? I’m also looking at all the grading around our house to make sure water is flowing away from the house.
Warmer and wetter conditions invite insects. Ticks and mosquitoes are a growing concern. Ticks can transmit Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Mosquitoes carry West Nile Virus, and Zika could also become an issue. Now an evening working in the yard includes a tick check on oneself and one’s clothes. We look for any standing water where mosquitoes can breed.
Last summer, we cleaned out an interior storage closet so it could be used for a tornado shelter if worst came to worst. We hope that’s enough. If I were building a new house anywhere in the Central and Midwest part of the country, I would incorporate a safe room in the design.
The high winds that accompany some of our storms mean evaluating the health of the trees on our property. We do find ourselves spending more time cleaning up branches after a storm. We don’t want to clean up heavier limbs, though.
When we replaced an A/C unit to our house, we installed one that had greater cooling capacity and energy efficiency to handle the higher summer temperatures.
We’ve probably halved our electricity consumption in recent years through energy efficient appliances and lighting. But heavier storms have made power outages a greater problem. We’re weighing using the southern exposure on our roof for solar energy, and the possibility of some form of backup power. Two major storms in recent years have resulted in widespread outages, some lasting a week.
There are some upsides. We do have longer growing seasons. I can put my tomatoes out by May 1 instead of May 10-15 when I first moved here. That means ripe tomatoes in July. We do have ample water (wish we could send some out west). During the worst of COVID, we were able to do outdoor visits comfortably from April through late in October of last year.
I don’t want to indulge all the tiresome arguments about whether climate change is real or whose fault it is. What I do have to think about as a responsible homeowner are the climate impacts we are experiencing. What I’ve discussed is simply how I am thinking about “what is” rather than “what if.” I do think the longer term challenge to limit global warming is an important, even an existential issue, as the heat-related deaths in the Pacific Northwest underscores. But the changes to our climate that I have seen in the thirty-one years we have lived in our home involve all sorts of practical considerations from maintenance schedules to what improvements we make on our home.
Human beings all over our planet are making changes, many far more dramatic than the ones I’ve described. Some are having to relocate to produce food or because rising sea levels are inundating their homes. Some have “go bags” packed to evacuate at a moment’s notice during fire season and are not sure to find their home standing when they come back. Some are trying to survive unseasonably hot temperatures that can be deadly to the elderly.
Whether we choose to admit it or not, life is changing for all of us. It certainly is for me.