Morning Read 2: Is a flooded Lake Champlain the new normal?

Extent of recent Lake Champlain flooding. Map: Lake Champlain Basin Program

The Burlington Free Press is reporting this morning that Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin thinks that climate change may have already changed life in the Champlain Valley for good.

“We’re concerned about how we get the resources to solve the new reality of higher water levels,” Shumlin said. “Our assumptions about the places we live and recreate have to change. We need to think about how we plan for the next 50 years” of what is likely to be wetter weather.

Shumlin has already opened talks with Quebec’s Premier Jean Charest and plans to draw New York Governor Andrew Cuomo into the conversation.

His comments follow a Washington Post essay published by Vermont’s leading climate change activist Bill McKibben, who argued that global weather crises — from Midwestern tornadoes to “megafloods” — could be triggered by global warming.

“Do we have a bigger problem than $4-a-gallon gasoline?” McKibben asked.

So what do you think?  As hundreds of homeowners along the shore of Lake Champlain hunker down for another month underwater, are we already living in a world significantly altered by carbon pollution?

As always your comments welcome.

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33 Comments on “Morning Read 2: Is a flooded Lake Champlain the new normal?”

  1. Jim Bullard says:

    Since the debate over global warming began there have been those who have been saying “weather is not climate”, implying that the effects of global warming, even if real, were a long ways into the future. OTOH the folks predicting global warming have said from the outset that some changes could occur within a decade. It has been a decade and the “weather” we’re getting lately looks a lot like what they said it would after climate change so yeah. We may have a bigger problem than $4/gal. gas.

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  2. Marquil says:

    Recommended reading: the Lake Champlain Climate Report from last May by NCPR’s contributor Curt Stager and Mary Thill. (link: http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/vermont/newsroom/lake-champlain-basin-climate-report-released.xml)

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  3. Curt Stager says:

    Hello All;
    A quick comment on Brian’s piece. It’s difficult to call this a “sign” of global warming, but it’s clearly an “example” of what is expected to come our way by the end of this century if we go down the extreme carbon emissions path and if most of the climate models cited in our Champlain report are accurate. Those regionally-focused models anticipate roughly 6 inches more annual precip by 2100 AD, which could translate into a roughly 2 foot rise in average level of Lake Champlain. Superimpose natural ups and downs atop that, and you see something much like what’s going on now becoming more like a “new normal.”

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  4. It's All Bush's Fault says:

    Waterworld.

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  5. rockydog says:

    My dog just had an accident on my rug. Must be climate change (smh).

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  6. Paul says:

    Curt and others, there is clear scientific evidence that the planet is warming. There is clear scientific evidence that we have a hand in that warming trend. Is there any real evidence that local weather events have anything to do with global climate change?

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  7. Pete Klein says:

    No. First, there is no such thing as normal. There are only averages. Averages are the result of adding the extremes and dividing by two. The only thing that would be abnormal would be where you have a day where the high and low temp were average for the day, you had an average amount of rain or snow for the day, and you had the average cloud cover for the day. That would be really weird.

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  8. Paul says:

    I agree that this “could” be a looming problem but do we really know what is going on? Let’s make decisions based on facts not on what we think may be happening. Could climate change lead to large “shifts” in precipitation as opposed to increases over time? Obviously if our average precipitation is on the rise due to climate change than some other areas average precipitation is on the decline.

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  9. hermit thrush says:

    Obviously if our average precipitation is on the rise due to climate change than some other areas average precipitation is on the decline.

    no, not at all. there’s no law of conservation of precipitation. i believe that climate scientists expect that as warming proceeds, overall precipitation will increase, since warmer air holds more water.

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  10. Paul says:

    hermit, so the folks out in the south west that are experiencing decades of drought are going to be routing for climate change! An overall increase in precipitation should have a positive effect on the food supply. Sounds like we better head for higher ground. If sea levels are rising due to climate change doesn’t that mean that more water is staying in the ocean and less is getting into the atmosphere?

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  11. Paul says:

    Seriously, it may be necessary for us to manage for more precipitation. For example water levels in dammed lakes should perhaps be set at lower levels in the summer to compensate for more spring flows.

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  12. Bret4207 says:

    Took my youngest boy in for a haircut yesterday and was reading the local papers file from this week in 1911. People were aghast at the weather!!! A week of temps near 100F and severe thunderstorms with several building hit and ball lightening reported in places.

    Funny, to read the headlines you’d think nothing like this had ever happened before.

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  13. oa says:

    Actually, Bret, as far as the Lake Champlain level goes, nothing like this has happened before in the recorded history of the lake. Whatever the cause, this year is one for the record books.

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  14. rockydog says:

    But how long has the lake level been recorded? Sure is one for the record books but the record book is not that old.

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  15. hermit thrush says:

    hi paul,
    i thought about saying something about exactly the point you raise in my previous comment, but i decided against it for sake of brevity. but the point is that “overall” really means overall, i.e. climate change is expected to cause an increase in aggregate rainfall when you total everything up over the whole world. but that doesn’t mean the rainfall will be uniformly distributed. things are just more complicated than that. many localities are expected to become drier. but the expectation is that in the places that become wetter, the increase in rainfall will more than offset the decrease in places that become drier.

    as for sea levels, more water in the atmosphere certainly does point toward lower sea levels. but higher temperatures will also melt more ice, and that’s expected to have a much stronger effect.

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  16. Pete Klein says:

    Bret,
    Part of the problem you and I have is we remember too much from the past to be shocked or surprised by anything.
    I remember from the 50′s when “experts” were saying there would be palm trees growing in Central Park within 10 years. In the 70′s the experts were saying we were about to enter the next Ice Age. Now we are back to palm trees.
    Once again: pollution is bad, palm trees or no palm trees, ice age or no ice age.

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  17. Paul says:

    “Once again: pollution is bad, palm trees or no palm trees, ice age or no ice age.”

    Best comment all day!

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  18. Paul says:

    I also think that what happens a few minutes ago on the other side of the world gets to this side pretty fast so we see the world from a different perspective today. I am reading a book right now on the floods of the Mississippi river in 1927. You want to talk about rain. The story is amazing.

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  19. oa says:

    Rocky Dog asks: “But how long has the lake level been recorded? Sure is one for the record books but the record book is not that old.”
    I was tempted to send RD to Let Me Google That For You, but instead did it myself, because I’m all about personal responsiblity, in that I feel personally responsible for all you helpless Google-challenged folks.
    So here you are…
    Previous record of 102.1 feet set in 1869 (broken this year by well over a foot): http://nh.water.usgs.gov/echo_gage/measurements.htm
    Daily measurements of water level started being kept in the 1870s:
    http://www.lcbp.org/Atlas/HTML/nat_lakefax.htm
    I’m assuming they kept more sporadic measurements before that. In any case, just based on where the old parts of towns are built, and where the lake has encroached on many of those old areas, this year is a humdinger.
    But it’s okay if you want to complain that it doesn’t go back 10,000 years, and that 10,000 years ago, Lake Champlain was part of the ocean. So how dare we draw any conclusions: This isn’t even a record if you go back 10,000 years.

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  20. tootightmike says:

    Lake levels have been monitored for long enough to allow folks to build homes and villages, docks and sea walls, roads, bridges and tracks. a new, higher lake level, even if it’s only seasonal, will be hugely expensive. We rely on our weather to be predictable. Everything from snow plowing to corn planting relies on this predictability, and when that goes, we’re in trouble.

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  21. rockydog says:

    I know how google works. Don’t be embarrassed that I put you in a corner. You’re gonna be just fine.

    “I’m assuming they kept more sporadic measurements before that.” Well we all know what you do when you assume.

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  22. Bret4207 says:

    You guys are right!!! It IS MAN MADE!!! But not quite like you think-

    “WETLANDS FILLED IN

    Human activity has added to the problem, the report states. The river’s main channel has been narrowed to widen the adjacent Chambly Canal, which was designed to allow navigation around some impassable rapids at that location through a series of locks.

    Historic wetlands along the river have also been filled in over the years as communities formed along the river.

    Combined, these issues have created a condition in which a small increase in runoff entering the basin creates a much larger increase in lake levels.”

    http://pressrepublican.com/0100_news/x2142722151/Lake-level-controlled-naturally-by-the-flow-of-the-Richelieu-River/print

    Looks to me like man has exacerbated an already restricted outflow. Add in the fact we channel water to storm drains, pave any ground that might soak up the water and compact out soils into concrete…well. what did we expect?

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  23. Pete Klein says:

    Bret, once again, you and I agree.
    Look at what has been happening along the Mississippi. Look at the houses sliding downhill in Keene.
    People insist on building where they shouldn’t build, then complain when things don’t work out.
    The lesson. Never argue with either water or gravity.

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  24. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Pete Klein 6/1 9:35

    Actually, there is a “normal” for what it is worth. And I know I could google the information but I’ll give my best recollection of the facts. I may not be exactly scientifically accurate but I hope I give an idea of the way it works. Anyway, I heard this explanation once.

    Whoever the people are whose job it is to determine what normal is (temperature anyway) periodically review the numbers for a 30 year period of time. They determine either an average or a mean and then call that “normal”. So over time normal changes, and if I’m not mistaken normal has gotten a lot hotter over time.

    I’m sure if I’m wrong Curt Stager can correct me — if he isn’t too busy.

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  25. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    By the way, we’ve got a little fishing camp — basically a shack — on the Schroon River. We worry every year that it will be flooded by the river. Hasn’t happened yet. But last week torrential rain caused a flash flood that washed away a gully within a foot of our camp. Not from the river side but over the road on the high side. We were pretty lucky. Our camp is still there. Our neighbor less than 70 feet away lost most of his foundation.

    The flash flood washed 3 or 4 feet over, and washed out a former county bridge that has been nearby since 1915.

    Maybe climate change, maybe not. But I’ve been spending my entire adult life trying not to be wasteful and it sure makes me angry that lazy slobs and “conservatives” don’t give a darn about the how their actions affect everyone else.

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  26. Bret4207 says:

    That’s completely inaccurate and unfair Knuck. Typical that liberals don’t care how their regulations and laws affect other people. As long as you get your own way you’re happy.

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  27. Walker says:

    Well, yeah, Bret, but regulations don’t generally cause tornadoes, mudslides, hurricanes, melting of polar ice caps, destruction of polar bear habitat, species exterminations, etc., etc.

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  28. Bret4207 says:

    News flash- polar bears aren’t drowning, we’ve had fewer and less powerful hurricanes as of late, sources say the ice caps aren’t melting (in fact gaining in Antarctica), etc. etc. I suppose the tsunamis in Japan were man made too? What regulation will fix that?

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  29. Walker says:

    Yeah, Bret, everything is just hunky dory!

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  30. Bret4207 says:

    I didn’t say that, but the fact remains much of what you wrote of isn’t accurate.

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  31. oa says:

    Rocky Dog says: “Don’t be embarrassed that I put you in a corner. You’re gonna be just fine.”
    Whatever that means. I’m not embarrassed, except by people who ask rhetorical questions like, “How long have they been taking measurements?” that have actual answers.
    You asked a question, pal. I answered it to the best of my ability.
    Which is more than you did.

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  32. Walker says:

    Bret, “As of 2008, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) reports that the global population of polar bears is 20,000 to 25,000, and is declining. In 2006, the IUCN upgraded the polar bear from a species of least concern to a vulnerable species. It cited a “suspected population reduction of >30% within three generations (45 years)”, due primarily to climate change… The key danger posed by climate change is malnutrition or starvation due to habitat loss. Polar bears hunt seals from a platform of sea ice. Rising temperatures cause the sea ice to melt earlier in the year, driving the bears to shore before they have built sufficient fat reserves to survive the period of scarce food in the late summer and early fall… On 14 May 2008 the U.S. Department of the Interior listed the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, citing the melting of Arctic sea ice as the primary threat to the polar bear.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polar_bear#Climate_change

    “According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, ‘since 1979, winter Arctic ice extent has decreased about 4.2 percent per decade’… Data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center shows that the sea ice coverage of Antarctica has a slightly positive trend over the last three decades” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polar_ice_caps#Earth

    I’d say that a 12.6% decrease in Arctic ice, combined with a slight increase in Antarctic ice works out to an overall decrease in polar ice caps.

    See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arctic_shrinkage

    I suppose you figure the glaciers aren’t melting either?

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