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The Girl (La Nina) and the resulting floods

Unusually high waters and streams of this fall are likely a result of La Nina, but floods are also a natural part of an ecosystem lifestyle.. (Owen Bjorgan) Niagara Region has been inundated with rainfall over the past week and a bit.
Unusually high waters and streams of this fall are likely a result of La Nina, but floods are also a natural part of an ecosystem lifestyle.. (Owen Bjorgan)

Niagara Region has been inundated with rainfall over the past week and a bit. Many residents witnessed swollen ditches, the creation of ponds where they never existed, and creeks turning into rivers.

We have had an exceptionally wet fall so far. This is largely a circumstance of a global phenomenon known as La Nina. We’re looking at a globally influential weather event that occurs every handful of years, without guarantee or predictability as to when it will take hold, or how long it will last. The translation literally means “the girl,” versus its counterpart weather operative, El Nino, “the boy.” I personally love the dichotomy of the boy versus the girl in its simplicity, but also potency, for worldwide weather. It is quite fascinating.

Although this influences weather in an immediate situation, which is exactly what weather is, La Nina is still considered a worldwide climate pattern, given its broad and noticeable impacts across the globe. 

So, what can southern Ontario and the eastern half of North America expect for this fall and winter with La Nina? 

Weather experts and analysts are telling us to prepare for plenty of the white stuff. We’ve had a particularly hot summer, which has scorched Lake Ontario and Lake Erie to the point where they will remain thawed for an unusually long time. That soupy hot summer is just a precursor for what La Nina will bring for our cooler months ahead, as La Nina represents a cooling of the southern Pacific Ocean, and a warming fuel injector for the Atlantic Ocean. 

We will get more rain and tropical moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. That has already clearly happened this fall. We are likely to experience an unusual amount of lake effect snow as cold air whips over the relatively warmer Great Lakes. 

As fall, and soon to be winter is likely to show us, we will experience more flooding. In previous articles for The Local, I discussed a more political and immediate connotation about flooding. A lot of our local flooding straight up happens because we have removed flood protection barriers such as wetlands and fringe habitats along our waterways, and paved over areas which once absorbed extreme amounts of water.

Let’s rewind to over 250 years ago. Floods, La Nina, and other extreme weather events would have happened then, too. So why do floods occur, and what is their role in a global state of homeostasis and environmental balance? The very balance that we have perverted as a westernized culture?

Firstly, there is the natural need for nutrient distribution. In wholesome and uninterrupted ecosystems, we need to picture a river flowing for dozens of miles. In a flood, the very soil it erodes from the banks upstream may be different from that of the soil of another world downstream. The soil is different in density, nutrients, and chemical compounds. These compounds become removed from their original location and moved to a new neck of the woods, where grand oaks and hickories benefit from their delivery, as such sediments become deposited on their exposed roots and the banks of the creek. 

Let’s also consider which animals benefit from the rise of waters, even if our own species is self-righteously vexed by such instances. In both spring and fall, multiple species of fish receive the environmental cues to head upstream to spawn. In a personified sense, the salmon and trout and pike must think, “Wow, here is my chance to get as far up as possible and lay my eggs safely inland, where the creek will later wash the spawn out to the big lake again.” In this event, birds of prey and opportunist omnivores find windows of chance to feast on intense amounts of protein by catching some fish, ultimately sustaining the food web and its equilibrium. 

Fish don’t think about diets, because they don’t have emotional ideals of their body and general health. They just eat what’s available and necessary. Humans certainly think about this, though. When we commit to a certain dietary regiment, we are essentially flushing our system — our inner ecosystem — of all things that are in excess. How is a flood across a landscape any different?

Floods push clogged debris out of the way and spread it about downstream, creating new habitats within the same watershed. Major water levels transport sediment, largely because of unchecked agricultural runoff, out of the system. This is basically a large-scale cleansing operation which is necessary to prevent excess buildup of unwanted materials, the human equivalent of flushing ourselves to remove various toxins and fats alike. 

The concept of flooding existed ages before our established human existence. If we rewind time and consider that floods actually intermittently benefitted waterways and humanity, we would spend less time bickering about how the water ended up in our backyard.