Paddling the Extremes

it's happening now

Photo by David Hanson
Photo by David Hanson

By Jeff Moag/Dave Shively

"It is not correct to think these are future changes that will impact our children or their children. Rather, these changes can be detected now." — Climate scientist Dr. John Abraham, in The Guardian.

The American Southwest is in the midst of its worst drought in more than 1,200 years, and a new study from NASA warns that things will only get worse. Paradoxically, while most of the country is getting drier, we're seeing a marked increase in so-called "very intense precipitation events" in every part of the continental U.S. The data suggests the future—our future, the one that starts tomorrow—will bring deeper droughts, more frequent floods and, because more precipitation is falling as rain than as snow, shorter runoff seasons. We'll learn to paddle the extremes, using packrafts to navigate rivers at extreme low flows, and making the most of those short seasons. And we'll probably catch those rare high-water classics more often, too.

"We flew by the familiar islands and back channels and forests in such a continuous cataclysm of swiftly sliding water and boils and eddies and whirlpools that the trip began to feel like a stream-of-consciousness dream, and every night at camp I felt light-headed as all of the places I know so well, and am used to seeing at the Mississippi's regular pace, replayed themselves in an endless frenetic reel." — Outfitter John Ruskey, on paddling 2011's Mississippi River flood, the biggest in recorded history.

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