These lines were written by one of my favorite folksingers, Pete Seeger, and was a hit by the Byrds in the 60’s. Based on the Book of Ecclesiastes, the song is a reminder of the cyclical nature of life and how things follow logically from each other.
Unfortunately, this is not always a positive thing, particularly if you’re an emergency manager. For the past five years, we in California experienced a major drought. The heat damaged a lot of our vegetation, increasing the fire load in our forests and hills which in turn led to major wildfires throughout the state.
This winter, the drought broke with one of the wettest seasons on record, leading to localized flooding, the most serious being the overtopping of the Oroville dam that led to major evacuations downstream. Contributing to the severity of these floods was the lack of vegetation in burned areas to absorb and of the moisture. Most recently, major landslide caused by the denuding of a hillside by fire and drought led to the closure of Highway 1 for the foreseeable future and the isolation of several small communities along the Northern California Coast.
The cycle is not ended. The plentiful rainfall has, as one would expect, led to the explosive growth of our native vegetation. This is a time of beauty, with wildflowers blooming and our hills covered in green. But our rainy season is over; rain does not fall in California over the summer and fall months. Already our hills our starting to return to their usual shade of brown as the grasses die. The increased vegetation ultimately translates to an increased fire load. Weather predictions are for above average temperatures through June, leading to problematical fire loads in July. It’s going to be a busy fire season.
We sometimes joke that we only have two seasons in California: flood season and fire season. But we sometimes forget that the two are intricately intertwined. As emergency managers, we need to understand interrelationships such as these and consider them when we plan. In the words of another biblical folk song, “It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.”