Thursday, June 12, 2008


What’s In A Name?

TBC will be providing on the ground coverage from our Cynyx in Iowa and surrounding states. As some of you may recall, we had several Cynyx covering the Iowa caucus. One actually lives in Iowa. Another, we sent there for the Caucus and he remained. He had been incarcerated, recently released, so he’s good to go. Of course other Cynyx will be contributing their reporting, perspective and opinion as usual.

(June 12, Cosgrove, IA)

The last 500 year flood was followed by the last 100 year flood which actually occurred 15 years ago. So what, a flood is a flood: 500 years, 100 years, last year. It really does not matter when what was once dry land surrounding you now is an endless expanse of rippling water. Actually the 500 and 100 year terms are often mistaken. They do not represent the frequency of the flood rather what the probability is, the likelihood that such a flood occur within those periods of time. So, according to NOAA and others, the present conditions here, and other parts of Iowa, conspire as such only one time every 500 years. Ergo, once and only once, per 500 years, will these particular variables coalesce to produce a flood of this particular scale and scope. It’s about the magnitude of the event, not the interval between occurrences. Of course, so it is for the 100 year variant.

Now, that’s out of the way, where have we gotten? There is water here, a lot of water. Water in the fields; water over roads. A whole lot of water. But, you already knew that.

The current video images coming out of the Midwest are certainly dramatic. The flash flood is a dramatic, traumatic, acute destructive force that transforms lives and landscapes quickly. Aerial images show houses washing away empowered by torrents of fast moving muddy waters. Herds of cattle stand tightly packed on a small island of relatively high ground.

Not as dramatic, far more insidious is the flood that’s coming. Initially the only indications that trouble may be pending are visual. Driving to and from work occasionally crossing a bridge spanning a benign rural creek, the creek seems higher, wider. Looking out at the fields the first sign is standing water. Day by day the standing water increases, the creeks swell and the rivers; they change in character. Faster moving currents soon become menacing as the acres of standing water begin to expand until they are contiguous with overflowed creeks and the dangerously swollen river. Something is not right.

More attention is paid to weather reports, forecasts and predictions. Suddenly there are a great deal of numbers involved, unfamiliar numbers; not just temperature, humidity and wind speed. Now it’s all about flood stages, levee heights, and crests. This becomes a flash flood played out in ultra slow motion. Inch by inch, foot by foot the waters expand, the currents become angrier and the landscape is transformed. Normally endless rows of corn and beans would be seen emerging from the dark soil. Now, it is all about water. The questions and concerns shift as well. The issue is no longer ‘when will it recede’ but ‘how high will it get’? Points of reference are consulted, estimations made based on local lore more than science. How deep was it in that field in ’93? When did they open the spillway at the dam back then? Answers are as varied as are memories. Points of reference provide little, if any, comfort.

Practical matters assume an uncommon urgency. Water, food, sandbags…what will need to be done to prepare? Personal possessions are thoughtfully assessed. Would I miss that? What should definitely be protected, removed, taken if evacuation is in order? As the water rises, as the rains continue, things begin to grow ominously to the north: up river, up stream, up above where ever it may be that is yours. Everything runs south and if it’s that bad now ‘up there’; by next week we’ll be in trouble down here.

And so it goes. The weather forecasters become more animated, the predictions more dire, local government agencies begin to mobilize. There is nothing “flash” about this maddening wait for the inevitable. Meanwhile, it the rains continue. Reports from other part from other parts of the state and region tell of other floods, tornados, hail, damaging winds and the sudden, tragic loss of life and property. The power of nature, once full exerted, can do what she will.

World wide, natural disasters occur. Learned experts in a variety of scientific disciplines understand the causes and affects, the events in technical terms. Some events are acute. An earthquake just suddenly happens. Or does it? Do long dormant volcanoes just suddenly blow? Perhaps there is no “acute” weather or seismic event; all either have precursors or are by products of larger systemic disturbances. Everything is connected, right? The famous “Butterfly Effect”, writ large. A distant shudder among tectonic plates far beneath a vast sea and a tsunami is born. A slowly assembling tropical depression merges with high water temperatures, winds and other variables in its evolution towards landfall as a massive hurricane. The rumbling whirling dervish that is a tornadic funnel cloud is spawned by the collision of fronts with input from radiating surface heat and the contours of the topology. Indeed: nothing in nature appears to be acute anywhere.

Meanwhile, sandbags are filled, and more sandbags are filled. Piles of sandbags appear like hoards of bloated locusts in Biblical proportions. Evacuations begin as this roadway or that becomes impassable. Water. Water in amounts, weights, water on a scale and scope in places considered ‘land’ as impressive as it is malignant. It won’t suddenly go away, it will not leave without a fight; it will have its way as sure as the earth turns.

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