By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
—T.S. Eliot, The Burial of the Dead, The Waste Land, 1922
April is always an unpredictable month. It is reliable in its near total unreliability.
Storms, floods and cold, yet slightly warmer weather, under normal conditions, stir colors from our landscape.
In 2021, we have, as one local weather reporter stated “August in April”.
In place of “April showers,” we had several days of temperatures in the seventies – and a few in the eighties.
I’m not sure how the “May flowers” will fare, but the exceptionally warm and dry weather in April is certainly a bellwether of some peculiarly Pacific Northwest challenges – especially in the categories of fire and water.
By mid-April we have already seen brushfires.
We usually don’t see roadside fires until mid to late summer. To see them just a few weeks into spring is a harbinger of what could be a long and difficult summer.
A few days ago my wife was going over my ever growing list of summer and pre-summer projects. She said she wanted me to “get the house ready for summer”.
I assumed she meant digging out the outdoor furniture or finding fans or gathering summer toys or lawn equipment.
But no, she meant none of those; she meant tightening up our doors and windows so smoke from the nearly predictable seasonal forest fires does not get in the house.
In the Tacoma I grew up in, no one had air conditioning. In 2021, many Pacific Northwesterners do have air conditioning. But air conditioning is worthless, if not hazardous, when inescapable smoke rolls in.
Massive fires, and the inevitable smoke that accompanies them, have become a regular feature of Northwest summers.
You might remember over the past summer or two, or three, or four that we had enveloping smoke from California, British Columbia, Oregon and Siberia, to name a few.
Suddenly, all of those outdoor activities that most of us look forward to all winter disappeared.
Camping in the smoke was out of the question, but even staying home became (literally) suffocating.
Bike rides and hikes, a seasonal highlight for many of us, quickly became just another casualty of the new smoky season.
As we’ve all learned in the past few years, there is no escape from the smoke.
As I mentioned, few of us who have lived here long have had air conditioning.
On those few hot days, we might open a window or two.
But one smoky day will force us to reconsider that option.
We usually don’t get smoke until August, or even later, but in 2021, who knows?
Water, water, everywhere
When it comes to water, we in Washington state have a luxury few states have; ample water collected every winter and stored conveniently until we need it in the dry summer months.
Or at least we did.
The warmer weather means that our snow pack is melting faster – far faster – than usual.
We had a good winter in terms of alpine snow, so we probably won’t have a water shortage, but rapid snow melt means an increased possibility of flooding and avalanches.
I always think of this area as unique – but where else in the world would have lowland flooding because it was warmer and drier than usual?
Much of the rest of the world is, and has been, in the throes of a sustained drought. From Yemen to Southern California, and most of the North American Southwest (https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/) water is in short supply.
We in the Pacific Northwest assume water, if anything, is infinite.
We have lakes, rivers, bays and glaciers. Water literally falls out of the sky.
And yet water is NOT infinite.
Water, as historians, anthropologists and modern day water-protectors would remind us, is life.
April is “the cruelest month” because it promises, even as it takes away, the soothing, slower pace of summer, but in these days of dramatic daily weather and long term climactic shifts, our seasons, our glaciers, our summer activities, even our ability to breathe or stay at home, is nothing like it was just a few years ago,
We might love the warmer than usual weather this month (and who doesn’t?), but who among us could even guess what eighty degree weather in April portends for the rest of the year – or even, as is most likely, many years to come?