Extreme weather ahead

By |  October 18, 2017 0 Comments

Karl Danneberger, Ph.D.

Like so many around the world, I watched in September as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma brought misery and destruction to the Texas and Florida coasts. The dead, misplaced and lost — along with the property destruction — may take weeks, months or years to sort out, as we learned from Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.

At the same time, heroic acts and displays of human kindness during and after the storms speak to what it means to be an American. We are fortunate to live in a wealthy and caring country that can commit resources, both personal and governmental, to help citizens and businesses rebuild in the aftermath of these storms.

In the face of these weather events and the accompanying suffering, it may seem insensitive to talk about golf. However, golf facilities face the same issues as communities as they recover and rebuild. Watching and learning from superintendent postings on social media concerning their preparations, damage and recovery plans is heart wrenching.

Agronomists think in terms of course conditions, flooding damage, deposition of debris, excessive turf growth or disease, etc. However, this is just one part of the overall picture for a golf facility. For example, when are club employees who were evacuated coming back, and when? Are they facing the loss of their home and/or electrical power? What about the loss of wages? How do they get to work?

What structural damage occurred to the maintenance facility and clubhouse? What is the condition of maintenance equipment or equipment in the cart barn or clubhouse? What’s the expected financial loss and recovery outlook for the club?

What condition will golfers be in, and when will they return? Have they suffered personal loss or damage to property? And what are their expectations when returning to play? These and many more questions must be considered and planned for. Why? Because hurricanes will continue to occur.

Fortunately, articles on how to deal with these concerns will appear in magazines like Golfdom. At local and national meetings, superintendents will speak from personal experience to address many of the issues associated with preparation for and recovery from these storms. This information will be important in preparing for future storms. Extreme weather events that in the past were rare are now becoming somewhat common.

Since the 1950s, there have been 24 Category 5 hurricanes in the Atlantic, of which 10 have occurred since 2000. In the Pacific, no Category 5 storms were reported prior to 1959. Since then, 15 Category 5 events have occurred, with more than half since 2000. Projections from the Geophysical Physical Fluids Laboratory predict at least a 2-percent to 11-percent increase in storm intensity this century, and a substantial increase in rainfall associated with storms. Significant reasons given include rising ocean levels and increasing ocean temperatures, all associated with climate change.

But climate changes are not limited to hurricanes. At the same time as the recovery from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the U.S. West Coast was experiencing record high temperatures and corresponding dry conditions. Portland, Ore., saw extended periods of temperatures in the 100s, breaking records that were just set in 2009. Associated with the high temperatures were numerous wildfires that contributed to an air pollution level deemed risky. The governor declared the emergency a disaster. To give some perspective to the rarity of this hot spell, 30 percent of residences in Portland (271,300) don’t have air conditioning.

There always have been major environmental events. My dad talked about the 1945 typhoon in the South Pacific and the hot summer of 1934 (which now ranks 6th, behind the years 2012, 2016, 2015, 2006 and 1998). Unfortunately, extreme environmental events are occurring much more frequently. As golf moves forward, we need to recognize that the likelihood of extreme weather events is increasing, and plan accordingly.
Karl Danneberger, Ph.D., Golfdom’s science editor and a professor at The Ohio State University, can be reached at
danneberger.1@osu.edu.

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