I’ve been so busy getting ready for the conference that I haven’t written as much lately. That’s actually good news because I haven’t had much to complain about! I did get two more of those strange rude phone calls, but everything else with the conference is going well. We have all the rooms reserved, all the technology is working, and hundreds of people have already registered. There are still some details to take care of, but it’s really exciting to see it all come together so quickly.
Since that’s all going well, I’m going to take a few minutes to tell you about the May 8 storm.
Jess was the first one to tell me about this storm. Ever since she told me, I’ve been reading all about it and looking at all the pics of the destruction. On May 8, 2009, there was an incredible storm that hit Southern Illinois and Southern Missouri. It didn’t kill very many people — maybe a couple here or there — so it didn’t really make the national news. I never heard about it, and Alejandra said she never heard about it either because she was still up in Chicago. Then again, she was only 8 at the time, so I doubt she paid much attention to the news.
There’s still a debate about what we should call the storm. It’s officially called a “super derecho”, but they had to make up that term because it was a new type of storm. People around here call it an “inland hurricane” because they say it acted like a hurricane. Whatever it was, it shut down most of the region. There was no power for days or weeks, trees in the roads, storm damage everywhere, people stranded in their homes, and so on. It was so bad that they declared some counties a disaster area.
I’ve seen the pics. Carbondale is the biggest town within about two hours of here and it was shut down. It was worse in some of the smaller towns and rural areas. Trees everywhere, some buildings smashed, whole metal roofs just tossed in the air and tangled up in power lines. Disaster.
What’s so important about this storm? Jess says that it was the first time global warming seemed real to a lot of people around here. Yes, there had been plenty of storms and tornadoes before. And yes, they had heard of global warming before. But here was this really strange storm, like nothing anyone around here could remember, and it shut whole counties down for days if not weeks. It sounds like a crazy time.
When Jess told me this story, she got all excited. She was just a little kid at the time, but she remembered exactly where she was, what she was doing, what it was like in the days after the storm, that type of thing. And at first, I just enjoyed the story because it was Jess, and she loved telling it, and I loved listening to her. But then the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was a big deal. Something clicked, and I really understood why it was so important to Jess for me to hear this story.
How many other people have stories like this?
When people talk about global warming and storms, we tend to talk about a few of the really big storms that hit really big populations — Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, Typhoon Haiyan, Typhoon Usagi, Hurricane Rafael, and now Hurricane Florence. They do seem to be getting worse, especially now that the sea level is higher and a storm surge that used to be no big deal can flood an entire city.
But what about the May 8 inland hurricane? What about some nameless wildfire that swept through some town out West and changed the lives of a few thousand people? What about some drought in the Middle East that doesn’t seem to kill anybody but leads to another war a few years later? What about some flood in China that I never even heard about but caused a landslide and brought destruction to a city there that will be remembered for generations?
There must be so many moments like this with global warming — moments that never make it on the news or get written down in history books because the city wasn’t big enough, or not enough people died, or it was too far away, or you can’t be sure it was just global warming. But these things are happening. And they’re changing people’s lives. They may not understand it at first, and they may not believe it at first. But give them time and they will understand. They will believe.
And they will act.
I don’t have all the answers. I’m just someone who grew up in Miami and wants to go back home. But this weekend, everyone who has been touched by global warming can meet up and figure out what to do together. When I think about how many people have been touched by this — directly, personally — part of me feels scared. This is something very big, very powerful, very dangerous that has been brought on us by human action. But another part of me feels oddly comforted. Because whoever you are, wherever you live, this has touched your life. You are not alone here, and you don’t have to be alone as you struggle to find solutions that work for you and your people.
This is a tough time, but we’re all in this together. And together, we can make a difference.