As I sit and write this piece, it is the middle of April and tornadoes are slamming Texas and the southern part of the United States. A week ago, record snows were being dumped on the Great Lakes region, and high winds and rain were pounding New England, causing major flooding.
Heavy rain and snow are not unusual for April, but what is troubling is the tornadoes that are hitting ahead of tornado season. After a year of major natural disasters ranging from massive forest fires in the West and epic floods in the Midwest to killer hurricanes in the Atlantic, this is just more fuel to add to the fire. What we are seeing is not normal and, according to the experts, it is only going to get worse. So what is the cause? Better yet, what can we do about it, if anything?
The short answer to the first question can be summed up as climate change. No matter what side of the political fence you stand on, there is no denying that the world’s climate has always changed. It is changing now, at least in part. Some scientists say we’re experiencing global warming while others forecast the coming of a new ice age. What really matters is whether you are prepared to respond to changes in your environment and what you will do when those changes have a significant impact on your way of life.
The second question is much harder to answer. To find out more, I tapped into the work being done by the scientists at NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), EPA, National Weather Service (NWS) and the U.S. Global Change Research Program. All of these groups are studying the effects of climate change and trying to find out how to best deal with it. After doing this research, I am beginning to think I need to adjust my survival plans.
Our prepping, up until now, has been based on the potential threats that we have had some experience with; lessons passed down from those who have come before us. But we have never dealt with issues like this before. Part of preppers’ plans has relied upon our ability to escape; to head for a safer place and, once there, wait out the adversity if possible. That place could be a cabin in the wilderness or a hole dug into the ground outfitted with a self-contained survival pod.
Faced with the threats we see today, I’m beginning to wonder if there is such a thing as a safe place. The changing climate is affecting everyone and every place to some degree. For many, things are still manageable, while others have had to move on to their Plan B. All of the agencies I researched agree that global warming is having an impact on the naturally varying climate, and human activities are often cited as part of the problem.
While temperature rises or drops have never been smooth or uniform, we are in a period where the warming cycle is getting worse. A great deal of attention is being given, rightfully so, to the melting ice caps and the rising sea levels, but all of these changes also have an effect on the rest of the landscape. While some will fare better than others, no one is exempt from the effects of changing climates and weather patterns. The questions are, how bad will it get where you are and how much will changes elsewhere affect you, whether directly or indirectly? As with all other aspects of our prepping plans, we will need to face this threat head on by evaluating the situation and adapting the way we think and act.
According to NOAA, “Almost 40 percent of the U.S. population lives in relatively high-population coastal areas.” They go on to say that global sea levels have been rising over the past century. “In urban areas, rising sea levels threaten infrastructure such as roads, bridges, water supplies, oil and gas refining and storage facilities, power plants and sewage treatment plants.” In a report from NASA, the increased melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets could possibly double the projected rise above today’s sea levels to an increase of 26 inches by the year 2100.
So you are sitting in Oklahoma reading this and you ask, “So what?” Well, according to the EPA, the changing climate will have a direct impact on crop and livestock production, not to mention the potential of more tornadoes and floods.
Severe warming, drought and flooding would reduce yields and the quality of the food we eat over large areas (we see this happen somewhere every growing season). Livestock are at risk to heat-related stress and the reduced quality of their food supply. With American farmers supplying nearly 25 percent of all the grain on the global market, a changing climate will put an intense strain on the supply and our economy. Studies have shown that climate change will alter the stability of food supplies as the U.S. struggles to help feed the estimated 9 billion people on the planet by the year 2050.
Simply put, the global food supply that we rely upon will see increased risk as climate around the world changes. According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, climate change is projected to have a profound impact on crops and livestock across the U.S. due to “extensive heat, drought, disease and heavy downpours.” Because of the rules of supply and demand we, or our descendants, could see a significant increase in the prices and reduced availability of food on grocery store shelves. Those who adjust their food sourcing plans to take this into account will feel the pain the least.
Up until fairly recently, tornadoes could be tracked and recorded only by someone actually seeing them, which makes historic data spotty at best. According to NOAA, some tornadoes went undocumented because they occurred in low population areas. Today, because of enhanced radar, a tornado can be recorded even if it was not witnessed. From records going back to the late 1950s, there is little evidence that overall tornado frequency has increased that much. That said, NOAA states that there has been an increase of tornado reports over the past several decades. Whether that’s an increase in occurrences or observations remains to be determined but it is being studied. In the meantime, considering building a tornado shelter might be a good idea for some of us.
“WHAT WE ARE SEEING IS NOT NORMAL AND, ACCORDING TO THE EXPERTS, IT IS ONLY GOING TO GET WORSE.”
What is known is that tornadoes are generated by strong thunderstorms. The thunderstorms gain strength from solar heating and the condensation of water vapor. When you add this to a front of cooler air, you have the potential makings of a tornado. You don’t need to be a scientist to realize that as our Earth heats up and moisture from the rising oceans is added to the atmosphere, the likelihood of tornadoes forming increases, often in areas not normally prone to them. Studies have shown that the number of tornadoes occurring in the Midwest, Southeast and the Northeast has increased.
Flooding and Drought
According to available records, average U.S. precipitation has been on the increase since 1900. The northern areas of the country are seeing a steady increase, while the Southwest is seeing a steady decrease.
Drought is essentially the opposite of flooding. Summer temperatures are projected to increase somewhat every year, and impacts are already being felt in some areas. The Earth’s surface temperature has risen about 1.62 degrees (F) since the late 1800s, with most of that increase happening over the last 35 years. That’s not a big number but the effect can be cumulative. The more the air heats up, the more moisture it draws from the soil. In areas where temps rise and there is little or no precipitation to replenish the water, droughts result. The western and central parts of the U.S. are expected to see continual high heat, reduction of soil moisture and thus, extended drought.
Floods and droughts can have devastating effects on garden and farm production, which can cascade through the food supply chain. If you’re already having trouble growing food in these areas it might be time to move elsewhere.
Rising Sea Levels
It is predicted that sea levels will rise 1 to 4 feet by the year 2100. That is pretty significant, especially in low-lying coastal areas. For example, the elevation of Miami, Florida, is about 6 feet, and Corpus Christi, Texas; and Norfolk, Virginia; are just 7 feet above sea level. Data show that sea levels have risen 8 inches since 1880, a period that has a direct correlation to the timing of the Industrial Revolution. It is predicted that in the next several decades, storm surges and high tides will join with the rising sea levels to increase flooding, sometimes even reaching inland regions.
“IN URBAN AREAS, RISING SEA LEVELS THREATEN INFRASTRUCTURE SUCH AS ROADS, BRIDGES, WATER SUPPLIES, OIL AND GAS REFINING AND STORAGE FACILITIES, POWER PLANTS AND SEWAGE TREATMENT PLANTS.”
Climate Change’s Impact on My Life
I rely a great deal upon what I can grow or harvest from the wild (hunt, fish, forage) to feed my family, and the changes in the New Hampshire climate have already affected how my family lives. Unpredictable weather patterns often dictate when and what I plant in my garden. They also have a direct effect on the animals that I hunt and the fish that I harvest.
“FACED WITH THE THREATS WE SEE TODAY, I’M BEGINNING TO WONDER IF THERE IS SUCH A THING AS A SAFE PLACE. THE CHANGING CLIMATE IS AFFECTING EVERYONE AND EVERY PLACE TO SOME DEGREE.”
The warming climate has introduced insect pests not historically found in my region. What might have seemed like subtle individual changes have combined to alter the environment enough to change the annual patterns of the wildlife. Intense heat, drought and flooding disrupt the food supplies used by wild animals, just as it does for domestic livestock, though wild animals have the ability to move to greener pastures. Food availability, or the lack thereof, will alter the habits of local wildlife and thus my way of life. Warmer ocean waters have already pushed many oceanic species out of the area, and some freshwater fish, such as trout, can no longer be found in traditional areas due to the water temperature increases.
What are We to Do?
Like every other obstacle humankind, and preppers, have faced, we must adapt. We need to evaluate the changes in our surroundings and adjust the way we do things. First, I would move farther away from the coast, even though it’s already more than 30 miles away. Hurricane Sandy gave us a taste of what could happen to places like New York and coastal New Jersey, and Hurricane Maria did a number on Puerto Rico and the Florida Keys. You never know when another one will hit, so now is the time to find a place and head for higher ground. Even without the threat of hurricanes factored in, the rising ocean levels will make living near the shore questionable.
With levels of urgency and intensity that depend on your specific situation, you’ll need to do more of what you have always done: Stock up on supplies and ensure you are able to protect your home and family. What we are facing is bigger, stronger and potentially more dangerous than anything we have ever faced in modern history, because this threat isn’t from a short-lived event, it’s from a new relationship with Mother Nature.
While in the short term there is nothing we can do in regards to what has already happened, many say we can slow it down. They suggest cutting back on our use of fossil fuels and other forms of large-scale combustion, which put tons of CO2 in the atmosphere, increasing the greenhouse effect and surface temperatures. Walking or using a bicycle to run nearby errands also improves your fitness level and reduces your energy and vehicle upkeep costs. If you have to use a vehicle, combine tasks into one trip at a time when you won’t be idling in traffic. Try turning to alternative power sources such as solar and wind power. Cut back on using the lights and adjust your thermostat to reduce home energy consumption. Draw upon your survival skills to address the things you do that impact the world around you.
As CO2 has been shown to be a major problem, I’m doing what I can to reduce my contribution. Besides the ideas above, I am also planting fruit trees. Trees and green plants take in CO2 from the air and use it to produce oxygen. The more trees we have, the more we can mitigate CO2’s effect on climate change. The fruit trees will also provide me with another food source for myself and my family. It is not much, but it is a step in helping to secure our future.
If you are reading this publication then chances are that you already do many of these preparation steps, but we as a group are relatively small when compared to those who do not prepare. That means that we need to come out of the shadows and teach others what we know. Share your skills and knowledge and lead by example. We are not going to turn everyone into “preppers” or “survivalists,” but if everyone does something to reduce their impact and adapt to their situation, we‘ll all be better for it.
For me, this is not a game and it is much more than collecting all of the “survival stuff.” More guns are not going to put more food on the table or make my garden grow. I’m not worried about a zombie invasion. I am worried about keeping my family safe from the effects of a changing climate. Truth be known, we are the only ones who can prepare for and address it.
First Hand Inspection
In an effort to get out of New England’s cold and snow, and to get a good look at how climate change is affecting other areas, I traveled to Florida in March of this year. What I found really opened my eyes.
Day one found me dealing with air temperatures that were in the mid-30s, not much warmer than what I had left in New Hampshire; not the norm for Florida.
Temperatures were not the only issue. According to some of the locals, this past winter had been extremely dry. Winter is normally their wet season, so this lack of rain would definitely show its effects during the summer.
To inspect the environment, I took to a kayak and made my way down the Homosassa River. Despite the lack of rain, the river was running normal, but the cold snap had changed the habits of the local wildlife, particularly the manatee. Manatees are very vulnerable to temperature changes. Normally they would be heading to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where they feed on sea grass but, because of the cold, they were staying in the relatively warm waters of the river. The rivers are fed by underground springs that keep the water temperature at about 70 degrees (F). Will the impact of rising ocean waters and changing air temperatures have enough of an effect on this environment to endanger this creature’s survival?
Find More Information
You owe it to yourself to gather as much information on your own as you can, especially as it relates to your specific area and situation. Please see below for a list of my sources for this article, and you’ll be able to find many more resources with a little quality time spent online. Check them out frequently, as new information, reports and observations are added every day.
Climate Impacts on Agriculture and Food Supply
Sea Level Rise is Accelerating
National Weather Service
Climate of the U.S.
U.S. Global Change Research Program
Numerous Climate Science Reports
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the December, 2019 print issue of American Survival Guide.