Musings of a Barbadian Transplant on the Unusual Sight of Snow in Charleston
Submitted by Mohammed Iqbal Degia posted to Extra Newsfeed
Car park at 1:30 pm
The sight of snow in Charleston yesterday had me thinking. I reminisced about my first experience of snow and all the other times and places I encountered it. Inevitably, as someone with a deep interest in environmental issues, I pondered about the connection of this local event to the broader issue of climate change. On Thursday evening, I went to post some photos on Facebook I had taken of the snow by our apartment complex. I was going to write a sentence or two about the photos but alas I have a wandering mind and instead I ended up penning this piece about the reflections I had on seeing the snow!
The first time I saw snow was in 1996 when I left Barbados and went to London to study at the age of 18. I was still asleep that morning and two of the guys from the hostel I was staying at came into my room and woke me up. I was not exactly happy to be startled and got up confused. They were excited and told me to look out the window and when I did, it was as if I had woken up in a different place. Outside was covered in snow. I ran out the room, slipped on my shoes without lacing them up and dashed through the door. I jumped around in the snow, held it in my hand and threw it around for about thirty seconds before the cold hit me. I had sprinted out in my lounge pants and a t-shirt! I went back inside and dressed warmly and then came out again in the snow for a little longer.
It snowed again rarely in my three years in London. I think it must have fell about three times and even then it was a light sprinkling that melted away within less than a day. Over the years I have had various snow encounters in places ranging from New York, Toronto and Wales to Durham and York in England, from vicious storms and stunning landscapes to the dirt-filled, ugly mess that pretty snow soon transforms to in cities. However, Wednesday was something quite unexpected. It snowed in Charleston, SC, a most abnormal occurrence! This is a place where winter only flirts with. I get away with wearing a spring jacket for large parts of winter and by March I venture outside in flip flops. The last time a snow storm hit Charleston was December 1989 and I think sometime around 2009/2010 there was also some minor snow. Yesterday’s snow seems to be record breaking. When I heard on Tuesday that there may be snow on Wednesday, I dismissed it. “Ah, there won’t be any snow here man, the most that will happen is some sleet” was the thought playing out in my head in Bajan dialect!
Palms at 2:30 pm
I had a conference call just before midday on Wednesday and was sitting at the dining table doing the call and talking incidentally about environmental issues. As I sat there on the call, the rain that had been falling for a few hours turned to sleet and then became snow. Soon outside was blanketed by it. I had clearly underestimated the weather! Thankfully, a lot of places had already closed so my wife was home. Today the snow is slowly melting but expectedly for a city not used to snow, there is some chaos. Many businesses and offices remain closed and the city of Charleston declared a state of emergency late this afternoon. We shall see what the weekend brings us. Hopefully warmer weather that melts the snow rapidly!
I took these photos at three different times of the day around 1:30 PM, 2:30 PM and 5:30 PM to capture the transition. They are, admittedly, a feeble attempt to capture the beauty of the snow. I have very little practice driving in the snow and would not dare drive my current car, unequipped for icy roads and snow, during this weather. The only drawback is that this deprives me taking some beautiful shots of Charleston under snow!
Car park at 5:30 pm
Beyond the pictures though, are some serious considerations- the reality of changing weather patterns caused by anthropogenic climate change and the effects of this change on coastal areas like Charleston and South Carolina Low Country. The cold weather happening at the moment is not evidence against climate change as some claim perversely. Weather and climate are not the same. According to NOAA and NASA, weather is the conditions of the atmosphere that we experience in the short term while climate is the long-term pattern of varying weather conditions. Although it may be unusually cold right now in Charleston, the average global temperatures are much warmer than before, a fact borne out by international scientific consensus.
Climate change has already had devastating consequences across the world and especially in places that are more vulnerable than others such as the Caribbean where I am from. It poses a grave threat to Charleston just as it does to the Caribbean and other US cities like Miami, New York and Atlantic City. In Charleston, the conversation about climate change has only started and it has been limited to rising sea levels and adaptation to flooding. Climate change’s causal link to flooding is minimised with the latter treated as an urgent standalone issue that must be adapted to. Topics such as coral reef destruction, fisheries depletion, health threats, biodiversity decline, increased drought, strain on water resources and extreme weather patterns, all very relevant to Charleston, are not on the agenda except for that of a small group of concerned people. Moreover, the discussions about adaptation to flooding and the financing of adaptation measures are led by certain interests whose properties are under threat. Those most impacted by the climate challenge- the African-American community- are excluded.
One uncommon snow storm is unlikely to stir the climate conversation in Charleston. I have yet to see any mention of the words climate change in news reports or on social media. It can be argued that in a traditionally conservative state the fact that there is significant attention being paid now to flooding is something to be positive about. While this is true, there is a long way to go. This satisfaction must be channelled into taking the conversation towards much more uncomfortable territory. Territory that not only encompasses subjects like mitigation efforts to address the cause of climate change but also places those who suffer disproportionately from climate change at the forefront.