Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Christmas Freeze of 1924 is Another Reminder of Warming Climate

The river froze over in 1924
The Sunday paper had a nice piece on the freeze of 1924, strong enough to freeze over the river.
By Dec. 22, area ponds as well as the Willamette Slough had frozen and had ice thick enough for skating. And the Willamette River was carrying considerable ice flows for the first time in several years, the Capital Journal reported. An Associated Press report the following day said the river was covered in ice flows from Portland to Albany....

“The river was bridged in two places just south of the county bridge by huge ice cakes that had come together, piled up and then were joined by the freezing of the water between the cakes,” the Oregon Statesman wrote Dec. 26, 1924. “It is seldom that such a sight is to been seen in Salem and it has been years since the river was frozen from bank to bank.”
Ice skating and play on the Willamette River in Salem
late 19th century, via Oregon State Library
The slough used to freeze with some frequency, and even the full river froze over from time to time. (See some other notes on freezing and skating here and here.)

But we are not likely to see the river freeze over ever again. As the climate warms up, the chances grow ever more remote. The change to river flows that the damming created are also likely a contributor to warmer water temperatures, but the air doesn't get cold enough any more for a sustained freezing, either. On the night of December 25th, the low was 5 degrees. Our winters are milder all the way around, and our lows end up in the 20s, not in single digits near zero.

From "Our Salem" December 2018 Open House
At the "Our Salem" Open House, the project team showed a slide summarizing greenhouse gases nationally for 2016. Oregon mostly tracks this, but the transportation sector is meaningfully larger than 28%, here at nearly 40%. The graphic's icon for transportation is perhaps a little misleading also, as personal travel in light truck and car is a large proportion and the emissions don't just come from heavy truck freight hauling.

About transportation the new 2018 Biennial Report to the Legislature from the Oregon Global Warming Commission says
Transportation GHG emissions have risen during each of the past three years and have grown from 35% of the statewide total in 2014 to 39% in 2016. In 2018, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) published a Monitoring Report to document progress — and the absence of progress — in implementing the 2013 Statewide Transportation Strategy (STS)... [which] is only advisory and has no specific programmatic implications unless the Legislature chooses otherwise.

ODOT’s Monitoring Report identified a number of areas of short-term positive progress offset by other areas of stalled progress or negative trends, particularly in the rising GHG emissions from light-duty vehicles. Oregon should prioritize moving STS recommendations forward, especially policies that incentivize low-carbon choices such as deploying electric vehicles and charging systems; electrifying transit and increasing transit service; and adapting Oregon’s communities to facilitate public transit, biking, and walking. Adopting an economy-wide cap on GHG emissions would reinforce these programmatic incentives for cleaner vehicles and fuels.
One of the real shortcomings at the moment in the 2019 Legislative agenda is silence on transportation, choosing not to pick up several of the themes in the Commission's report. Over at our 350.org group, they've posted Governor Brown's eight point agenda, and it says only
Hasten the pace of electrification of vehicles in Oregon by expanding electric vehicle infrastructure and incentives to support 50,000 electric vehicles on Oregon roads by 2020.
Transit, walking, biking, and refocusing on maintenance instead of new road capacity are nowhere to be seen. It's all about the new consumer gadget that will save us. But driving the same amount and merely converting part of the automotive fleet to electricity will not be sufficient.

If this is the framework for the Clean Energy Jobs bill - if it's too focused on power generation - there will be a chunk of work yet to do in another round. It must be seen as prelude and start, not as finished work. We will have to continue to iterate and improve on legislation and policy.

Though we don't have a White Christmas this year, thinking about the freeze of 1924 is evidence for climate change that is not too abstract or remote and can be grasped in an immediate, personal way.

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