Yuck. Not only is the incessant wind unpleasant, it’s alarming to think of how these harsh conditions could make our desert even more stark and difficult to live in for people and other living plants and animals.
Up until the mid-1970s, U.S. 6 & 50, which traveled across the Cisco desert from Moab to Grand Junction, was just one narrow strip of pavement. You can still see remnants of it, especially where large hunks of concrete and iron bar are hanging on to old bridge pilings where the road crossed major washes. That little two-lane was replaced by Interstate 70 almost 40 years ago, making travel much easier across the Utah/Colorado line.
Things today look a little different out on that lonely stretch of road. The desert is a bit more bleak, and there are relatively new highway signs warning travelers to pull over in case of blinding dust storms. That wasn’t such a concern or danger a few decades ago. To me it’s sad and scary.
Wind is certainly a member of the family here in Moab in terms of the role it plays in shaping our marvelous rock features. My grandmother would annually curse the “damnable wind” in the spring for thrashing and drying her roses, peonies and blossoming fruit trees. It seems to be even worse now.
As wildfires spark across the Intermountain West, the gales present more of a challenge for firefighters. Already this first month of summer hundreds of houses have been burned in Colorado, and it’s not all due to the fact that we as a population are building homes in danger-prone areas. Efforts to extinguish the blazes are complicated by the severely dry, breezy conditions.
Hats off to the emergency responders who put out the forest blaze near La Sal and Lackey Basin last week. That fire, which scorched just less than 1,000 acres, was sparked on a day when our forecast predicted a 10 percent chance of rain. All it took was one lightning bolt from a lone thunder cloud and our fire season was off to the races.
Spanish Valley is particularly dusty right now due to efforts to build recreational fields near the Old Spanish Trail Arena. The scrubby sagebrush that has held the soil in place for so long has been torn out and the land has been tilled and leveled for grass. This year’s diminished water supply in our community will be additionally challenged by the irrigating of these new fields. Much as I support recreational enhancements here, especially designed for our own residents, I feel a little harrowed myself when I see the torn-up sagebrush and bare sand. During the planning stages of those fields, there had been some talk of using artificial sod, but skeptics validly feared the turf would soon be covered in wind-blown sand.
Our forecast for this week looks like record-setting temperatures. With Ken’s Lake drying up, Mill Creek being diverted, and the sun blazing down in extra-warm June fashion, we should all be concerned.
President Obama and millions of others would blame these conditions on global warming. On Tuesday he called for tighter regulations for the coal industry, which could certainly impact counties to the north of us and Utah’s overall economic health. Obama cited “profound impacts” to our planet from climate change and he ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to create the first-ever carbon emissions limits for existing power plants.
As we face an uncertain future about how the weather will affect our planet and our very lives, some things are likely to continue: the hot winds in the desert southwest, and the long-winded political and societal debate over how to address these very real conditions.