What’s the Plan, Congress?

By Mike Jopek

After working several days outdoors on the farm in smoky air from North American fires, I went downtown to Depot Park for Whitefish Legacy Partner’s Hootenanny.

People filled the park holding umbrellas and raingear as music embraced the depot.

The wind kicked up and it started to briefly rain. What was not apparent just moments ago came into view as the wildfire smoke cleared to reveal Lion Mountain and Big Mountain. The sunshine escaped from behind the smoke.

The next morning was the first frost on the farm. Many plants held that much greener look that comes with cold; some were zapped by the frost. The following night, an even colder yet non-killing frost turned apples and kales sweeter and moved us toward planning next years’ garlic planting location.

The Flathead has been on the extreme drought watch for months, yet weather forecasts indicate that a much bigger than normal ocean warming effect will likely yield a much warmer and dryer winter for Montana.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that July 2015 was the warmest month ever recorded for the planet. For anyone spending any real time outdoors it’s easy to see that something big is up with the chaotic weather.

But the weather will have to get more extreme before Congress endorses any climate plan. That’s tough on people who make a living, recreate or just like the outdoors.

During the winter of 1997-‘98, another bigger ocean warming effect season, 62 inches of snow, sleet and hail fell at the Olney Station, while 36 inches dropped at the Whitefish Station according to NOAA. Our last winter produced 68 inches at the Whitefish Station and the Olney Station got 56 inches.

Last year the snow came earlier and dwindled over the season. The 1997-‘98 snow accumulation was more linear according to NOAA. Who knows what the weather brings, but I’m betting it will be as big as our sky and hoping for plenty of snow in the mountains.

Rainfall briefly scrubbed the smoke from Depot Park and the valley. And it will take rain and snow to help our brave firefighters battle the blazes of our drought-ridden forestlands.

Last week Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in a statement that over $150 million per week is spent on fire suppression with increases likely in the coming weeks. There are tens of thousands of brave firefighter working across the nation with the U.S. Military now offering some help.

Ask relatives living across the state, nation, or world and they likely say that their local weather is also behaving oddly.

Politicians create controversy so they won’t or can’t do anything, as the status quo works well for some. That’s been a GOP strategy with national healthcare policy, yet last week Speaker of the House John Boehner hired a top aide to advice him on healthcare.

Boehner, who reportedly toured places like Bozeman, Whitefish and Glacier National Park last month likely got a taste of our smoke-filled air. It’s that kind of first hand experience that may yield more resources to help firefighters combat a historic fire season.

This month Catholic Church leader Pope Francis, who said that the climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all, is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress after members return from an August recess of talking to constituents.

Over the weekend smoke refilled the valley as the first frosts of the season passed. We’re now harvesting crops like tomatillos that appreciate the heat but miss rain, which hopefully returns to scrub our air.

Praying for rain and snow seems more productive than talking to Congress about a national climate plan. Hopefully our leaders listen to people like the Pope.

Mike (Uncommon Ground) Jopek and Dave (Closing Range) Skinner often fall on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to political and outdoor issues. Their columns alternate each week in the Flathead Beacon.