No Vacation From the Weather

Climate change hits home and on the road.

My colleagues will tell you that there is no time I guard more zealously than my vacation. The old saw about nobody ever putting “he wished he spent more time at the office” on his tombstone is a truth too many people live in denial of, if you ask me. As my kids mature, those two weeks of family togetherness become more special and the ritual’s inevitable expiration date seems more real.

Our plan this summer was to return to the site of our wedding, Emerald Lake in the Canadian Rockies, a place so beautiful it will bring tears to your eyes. We planned a week of hiking in the piney air, guiltlessly enjoying hearty meals in lodges with burning fireplaces. Our kids would get to see the spot where their parents wed and, after five seconds, declare their boredom with it.

As the vacation week approached, I began to monitor the weather. Unlike Vail or Park City, there ain’t a lot to do in Yoho National Park if it’s pouring. Our lodging had no TV, swimming pool, or Wi-Fi. The kids were wary of a one-dimensional holiday, particularly when the majesty of scenery is lost on teens and tweens.

As I began to eye the extended forecast warily, the rain came in deluges. The damp, cool spring was common throughout the northern tier of the United States and most of Canada. And when one low-pressure system set up shop for days, it sent so much rain down that it washed out the Trans-Canada Highway, cutting the Rockies off from Calgary and civilization.

Five days before our departure, with our vacation base severed from food deliveries, downtown Calgary flooded, and more rain forecast, I canceled our trip for plan B—a week in Santa Fe and environs, where it was warm and sunny.

Without time to adequately research my decision, I subsequently learned from a friend’s mom who lives in Albuquerque that it was the hottest, driest summer they’d experienced there in 40 years. The national forests were closed to hikers to prevent more forest fires like those that had burned much of the state in May and June. Smoke filled the air, and the gorgeous southwestern vistas were generally obscured.

As I explained our dubious change of venue to my family over dinner, the skies darkened, the rains came (again), and we emerged outside to find pieces of the urban forest down all across our neighborhood, leaning on houses, blocking streets, and crushing swing sets in scarred backyards. Friends lost power for days. It was devastation unlike anything I’d seen here in 32 years of residency.

I am not a climate change zealot, but I have wondered what sort of cataclysms it will take to convince the naysayers that we’ve got to change aspects of how we live to mitigate the risks it presents.

Now weather is weather, and climate is climate, but it’s hard to integrate all the strangeness affecting our weather year after year and not cause even a skeptic to raise an eyebrow.

And as I learned this summer, you can’t outrun the bad weather or hide from its dangers.