Every so often over the last decade or so I’ve sensed a trend that I call “temporal exceptionalism”, or the view that right now is special, particularly related to weather events. This recurring idea that our storms are “historic” continues, even when data suggests the opposite, such as the recent state of hurricanes, floods, drought and tornadoes in the US. While we have had bad weather events in the US over the last decade, we’ve been fortunate to not have historically bad ones, or historically many at once.
When I wonder about what makes us we feel like today’s storms are special, a few potential sources come to mind: the ubiquitous TV weatherman standing in the storm, the proclamations of the doomsday faction of the climate change crowd (who sometimes seem to take satisfaction in the most tragic conditions), and our 21st century media, history’s greatest system for collecting bad news, making sure we know about bad weather no matter where it happens.
Last week a new event reminded me of our temporal exceptionalism, while an article made me add another potential source to my list.
The floods in Colorado are tragic, both in the loss of life and economic impact on that area. My thoughts have been with my friends and colleagues in that area, and so far the news has been pretty good all things considered.
And as expected, the historical significance of the floods started at “1,000-year event” levels, but further analysis has since suggested that these were probably on the scale that could recur every 25 or 50 years.
At the same time as the flood was being sorted out, a drawing-filled post titled “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy” hit my inbox and raised new questions: Is there something going on culturally that makes us fundamentally need our storms to be historic? Are they somehow providing needed justification to our lives? Or is it something else?
Beyond that I wonder if there’s a parallel between the GYPSY’s happiness and our sense of safety. Is our elevated sense of meteorological uniqueness dooming us to not take our storms seriously? Are we saying “how could we have seen that coming?", when any casual study of the historical data would have shown it to be a real possibility?
About the only thing I can say for sure is that I’ll get another opportunity to see temporal exceptionalism in action again soon.