Climate Ironies Expose the Vulnerable Borderlands

New York City made history when hundreds of thousands of people gathered in September to demand real action on curbing climate change, as the United Nations Climate Summit prepared to convene.
September, which followed the hottest August ever recorded according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was also a time of great climate ironies in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. A region that has panted through a blistering drought during the past few years was mercilessly inundated with heavier-than-normal rains and unforgiving floodwaters.

Homes were destroyed, roads and bridges washed out, communities cut off and lives lost. From southern California to Chihuahua and up into New Mexico, the lashing tails of first Hurricane Norbert and then Hurricane Odile fiercely exposed the continued inadequacy  of flood control infrastructure and unpreparedness in many communities.

In Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, the remnants of Hurricane Odile destroyed several flimsily built homes, opened up sinkholes, disrupted schools and businesses and turned the long-anticipated downtown traffic tunnel, which was finally inaugurated earlier this month by Mayor Enrique Serrano and Governor Cesar Duarte, into an underwater lake and waterfall- in the words of the local press. Work crews were forced to pump water from the tunnel that exits onto iconic Avenida Juarez.

Interviewed by local reporters, passerby ridiculed the water-logged tunnel, which was completed at an estimated cost of $20 million after nearly two years of construction.  “Serrano opened a public pool,” quipped some onlookers. “Bring canoes and we’ll rent them.”

“It was to be expected,” said another man. “They build pure crap for the people of Juarez.”

Fernando Mota Allen, Ciudad Juarez’s civil protection director, denied that malfunctioning water pumps installed for flood control in the tunnel were the cause of the disaster but pledged a review in order “to avoid a repeat of this situation.”

Separately, Mayor Serrano added that recent government clean-ups of dikes and arroyos staved off worse flooding. “While there were important impacts, they are of a different nature than if nothing had been done,” Serrano said.

Soggy-and tragic- scenes also unfolded just across the international line in Juarez’s sister city of El Paso, Texas. Residents of the Saipan neighborhood living underneath the Spaghetti Bowl freeway interchange, who suffered major losses during the Little Katrina flooding of 2006, watched nervously as water accumulated in a local park.  Luckily, however, they were spared a rerun of events that disrupted their lives eight years ago.

“Right now with the (city-built retention pond) that they made, I just hope that’s enough to contain the water that we have right now,” neighborhood resident Javier Garcia was quoted.

But in another part of the Texas border city, 64-year-old hospital employee Constance Manzanares died Monday, September 22, after her car was apparently swept into a ditch by rushing water.

In adjoining Dona Ana County, New Mexico, the small community of La Union, which suffered major flooding in 2013 in addition to previous years, endured more home invasions by floodwaters, though not to the degree as experienced last year.

Southeastern New Mexico, especially around Carlsbad and other parts of Eddy County, was particularly hard hit by the last bursts of Obile, which killed at least six people south of the border and left the international resort of Los Cabos on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula in ruins.

On Friday, September 18, more than 30 people were evacuated from an RV park in the vicinity of Artesia, while dozens of other people were temporarily housed in a Carlsbad high school by the Red Cross on Monday, September 22.  Two newer bridges were damaged, and a newly-raging Pecos River kept residents on edge.

Late last week, as the storm attacked the region, Randy Boland, a 39-year-old oil field worker, was swept away from his vehicle by an onslaught of water and killed south of the town of Loving. Two women were reported killed separately in similar extreme weather events earlier this month that slammed the Tucson area and Pinal County in Arizona.

Across a wide region, the phenomenon of intense rain fall in short time periods broke records or even approached the annual precipitation averages of arid localities. Measured at the Phoenix airport, the 3.29 inches of rain that fell on September 8 broke the previous single day record that was set 75 years ago, when 2.91 inches of rain was gauged in the Arizona city.

Eddy County, New Mexico officials estimated 7 inches of rain fell in their area last weekend, while in the northwestern part of the Land of the Enchantment, sheets of rain totaling in the 5-10 inch range over a three-hour period kept locals in the town of Cimarron busy attempting to protect their homes from water and mud.

Despite the deluge, pronouncements of an end to the long Southwestern drought would be premature. For instance, New Mexico is still short 6.86 inches of rainfall as measured during the last three years, according to the Associated Press.

September’s storms could well augur the future, because of an expected increase in the frequency of heavy rainstorms wrought by warmer temperatures that increase the energy of the climatic system, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Citing the work of climate experts, the NRDC points to red flags signaling the projected changes.

“National annual precipitation has increased between 5 and 10 percent since the early 20th century, largely the result of heavy downpours,” the environmental organization writes on its website. “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that intense rain events have increased in frequency during the last 50 years and human-induced global warming most likely contributes to the trend.”

Sources:, September 23 and 24,  2014. Articles by Paola Gamboa and Miguel Vargas.  El Diario de Juarez, September 23, 2014. Article by Martin Orquiz., September 22, 23 and 24, 2014., September 22, 2014., September 22, 2014., September 22, 2014., September 22 and 23, 2014. Articles by Elizabeth Alvarez, Matt Mauro and Chris Mckee. September 22, 2014. Article by Joe Haynes., September 20, 22 and 24, 2014. Articles by Elizabeth Reed, Eddie Garcia, Lauren Hansard and the Associated Press., September 13 and 18, 2014. Press/ABC News, September 18, 2014. Republic, September 9 and 10, 2014. Articles by Anne Ryman and editorial staff. San Francisco Chronicle/Associated Press, September 9, 2014.

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