One record-breaking month after another

by Rich Heffern

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I spent last week in a small house on my brother’s land in the southern Missouri forest working on a book I am writing for Orbis. My wife and I arrived at the end of a four-day long torrential rainstorm, the worst they had experienced there in anyone’s memory.

Thirteen to 14 inches of rain in a few days sent creeks and rivers 20 feet or more over their normal levels. Lakes overflowed. Dams were threatened. Ponds quadrupled in size.

All of the county roads were closed due to flooding. A friend of my brother’s, the prosecuting attorney for the county, was marooned for the duration in his house with guests who were visiting from the city, unable to navigate past the low-water bridge that was submerged and was their only way out.

Meanwhile to the south of us, across the Arkansas line, potent storms were formed there that then stalked through the South resulting in the worst tornado outbreak in U. S. history.

My brother and I worked a whole morning repairing the steep driveway that leads down from the state highway to our houses in the hollow below. Swiftly running water had dug channels in the road that had to be filled with medium-sized rocks then gravel and tamped down. He said he was awake all night listening to the heavy rains pounding on his roof. He said it was raining terrifically hard when he got into bed and it was still raining terrifically hard when he got up the next morning – and there had been no letup. He said he had lived now through, in the past 15 years, three once-in-a-hundred year floods.

These record rains followed on the heels of a winter that held a record snowstorm in February, then a record high temperature in March.

It seems every time I look at the Weather Channel home page there’s a headline in the slide show that reads “(Name of Month) Breaks Records!” All the web people have to do is change the month every 30 days are so. The “ … Breaks Records!” stays the same. It's almost always wetter, drier, stormier, hotter, or colder than usual.

My wife and I took long walks in the soggy fields and woods and I sat on the porch outside working on the book as the skies finally cleared. Slowly the forest and meadows dried out. The place returned to normal, though the ravines and washes that drained the steep hillside above us ran with rapidly flowing water. Spectacular falls were created where the watercourses were interrupted by big rocks. It was fun to walk along them and imagine we were in the Sierras or Rocky Mountains instead of Missouri.

The day after the storm ended I followed with binoculars a pair of summer tanagers feeding high in the black oaks and pines surrounding our house. They would call to each other every minute or so. Some of the native warblers – the blue-winged and the cerulean -- followed them through the treetops. Chickadees, kinglets and tufted titmice, travelling in a gang, visited the nearby dogwood and wild plum trees and scolded me for being there. I filled the hummingbird feeder and hung it from the porch and, as soon as I walked away from the job, the first hummer appeared. Later two of them got into a fight and ended up rolling on the ground together as the altercation continued.

In the evening I perched on a stump near the overflowing spring branch and watched the evening descend. Frogs and spring peepers called in large numbers. They were enjoying the rains. In the twilight sky above, crows mobbed a red-tailed hawk that was soaring over the ridgetop. Whippoorwills began to call as night deepened. The sound of rapidly rushing water was the background music for all the creature noises.

Every living thing, it seemed, was adjusting to the new reality of one record-breaking month after another.

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