If I asked you to name the most recent severe weather event in Connecticut, would you say the Sept. 6 rainstorm? The one that lasted eight hours and flooded our buildings? That canceled some of our classes and ruined many of our days? That would have been my answer too.
But Connecticut is in a severe drought. In fact, most of the Northeast is. And it has been since summer started.
The drought was officially declared to be in Stages 2 and 3 (depending on the CT region) by Governor Ned Lamont on July 14. It caused New Haven County to lose more than 30 percent of its crops, qualifying farmers in the area for federal emergency assistance. Most Connecticut rivers have water levels “below the 25th percentile for this time of year.” New Haven County and three others are considered “primary disaster areas” — the highest priority label of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
As usual, the Yale community seems much too relaxed day-to-day to be living in a primary disaster area. If there is a shortage of a crop, we import it. If there are low levels of groundwater, we will be the first ones in the area to claim what is left.
What really gets to us on this campus is heavy rain. When I woke up that Tuesday to the damp scent and low hum of water on pavement, every part of me wanted to go right back to sleep. I buried my face in my pillow to hold onto the day’s last opportunity for peace. No matter what I do on days like that, the day will be stuffy, it will be gloomy and I will spend it trying not to get wet. I stumbled over to my dresser and looked in my pants drawer, wondering what people wear on days like this. Somehow, whenever it pours, it feels like the first time. I pictured myself drenched to see what I would want to be wearing: nothing too heavy, nothing too absorbent, nothing too thin, nothing too light, nothing too nice, nothing too loose and nothing that hangs. It’s just so inconvenient.
Rain is also impossible to ignore. It’s physically uncomfortable. My walk to class that day felt like a video game challenge. I had no umbrella. I was wearing a hoodie but it was no use. Raindrops were finding their way onto my face and into my shoes, slipping down the back and sides of my ankles. My socks absorbed them so my toes were immersed in a marsh. It’s a violating feeling, little streams of water entering under your clothes, little by little. I found myself completely wired — trying to move as quickly and slickly as I could, weaving through the masses of other students, making sure not to step in large puddles. If I was offered a way, in that moment, to stop the rain, I would have loved to.
But the September 6 rainstorm was the falling of one month’s worth of rain. It was a relief for the ecosystem. The USDA and those monitoring the drought were most likely saying “at last”, while we walked to class, hating our lives. We heard each other, on and on about the annoyances we were subject to: “The basement of my college is flooded,” “my class was canceled,” “the buses are delayed” etc. I wonder what the New Haven farmer thinks about the storm causing WiFi outages at Yale, and about the article entirely devoted to covering it. The News has more articles published on the one-day storm than on the months-long drought.
And the journalist who does cover the drought is faced with a dilemma: whether to include how the drought will affect us most fundamentally and long-term, or how it might affect us in the next five hours. An article published in the Center Square on September 13 is an example of the former. It talks about dry riverbeds, the loss of insects that fish feed on, danger to fish spawning areas and the risk of low water levels for trout. Articles like these exist, but they are not the ones you’ll have showing up on the right hand side of your screen as you online shop.
So what usually wins is the latter. NBC Connecticut published an article on September 9, warning that “your family apple and pumpkin picking experience might be a bit different this year.” Apparently, “as for pumpkins, there are fewer this year,” and you should plan to go picking sooner rather than later. How scary. Thankfully, “customers who spoke with NBC CT said they were pleased with the selection of apples and pears right now.” In fact, one such customer said “you wouldn’t even notice it,” about the drought’s impact on crop yield.
The storm didn’t rid us of the drought — it’s ongoing. The executive director of Rivers Alliance of CT told Center Square that it’s time for us to be serious about conserving water. He said we need to allow for water to be absorbed by the land and added to the groundwater supply. What are we more likely to do: change our daily habits to start conserving water, or push Yale to get faster and more reliable WiFi, so it’s not interrupted by the next weather event?
We like to think we’re ruled by the mind, but can’t seem to be rallied by anything that won’t make us physically uncomfortable immediately. The drought — in scope, duration and impact — is worse than the storm and was alleviated by it. When will the subtle drought that doesn’t enter our buildings finally be the kind of thing we notice?
MICHAELA MARKELS is a junior in Hopper College. Her column “Critique of Human Reason” runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.