Monday, April 4, 2016

Chronic versus acute problems

When the California drought really got going, in the sense of a generalized panic about it, it was late 2013 / early 2014. The drought had actually started at least a couple of years before that. Now, here we are, a couple of years later, and by most accounts it looks like we're entering year five, despite a relatively wet winter in some parts of the state.

In those early days, I treated the drought much like I used to treat wildfire events when I worked on fire issues: as an acute problem -- an intense, urgent event that would have at least a somewhat distinct end. This is as opposed to a chronic problem -- one relatively unchanging in condition and with no definite end.

I've been thinking about acute versus chronic conditions a lot lately because treating a chronic problem like an acute problem is mostly unhelpful, and definitely unsustainable. In the medical world, an acute problem might be a morning headache -- a couple acetaminophen tabs might fix it. A chronic problem might be weekly migraines that are only eased by long-term stress reduction.

Thinking about drought as a chronic issue, one with no foreseeable end, changes a lot. For example, it means I have less tolerance for the daily play-by-play, will-this-set-of-storms-mean-the-drought-is-over, kind of stuff. Like, almost none.

Instead, it makes me want to practice, every day, re-dedicating my time and energy to the deeper issues, the areas that need the most attention, the hard stuff. The hard stuff is hard for a reason, and therefore intimidating. Trying to figure out how to have it be less so.

Related posts:

1 comment:

  1. It's our new climate!

    But part of the problem with propagating that realization to the public and policymakers is the hesitance of many climate scientists. I understand the desire to not make a strong statement without formal detection and attribution having been done, but as the models don't yet seem to be up to that task (soon, I hope) we're left somewhat adrift.

    I assume you've seen the recent Swain et al. paper, which while very interesting amounts to a massive exercise in bet-hedging regarding the last four years. The lead author had a piece on the KQED site last August or September in which he suggested a possible "Terribly Tenacious Trough" for this last winter (would have been reasonable if climatology from the last couple super El Ninos remained a useful guide) and continues to operate a blog focused on that daily play-by-play stuff.

    The last sentence in the abstract illustrates the problem:

    "Collectively, our empirical findings suggest that the frequency of atmospheric conditions like those during California’s most severely dry and hot years has increased in recent decades, but not necessarily at the expense of patterns associated with extremely wet years."

    I think that odd phrasing at the end is because that's precisely what has happened very recently. Yes, it's not stat sig, but but but...

    My own expectation (IANAS) is for strong ridging to set up again for the next cool season, assuming La Nina or ENSO-neutral conditions. We shall see.