CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE
RAPTURE OF TOURISM
Dry and brittle
forests had no chance against super-fast flames
in northern California in 2018. (Photo©Bureau of Land Management)
More than 8,500 wildfires tore through small
towns and acres of dry timber in northern California in 2018, killing almost 100 people and devouring most of Paradise, a
town of 27,000 stunned
residents who have only recently begun to rebuild. The year produced the most expensive weather-related damage
on record in the United States. Insurance estimates are in the billions.
And yet domestic tourism numbers
were up for 2018, driven possibly by a desire to complete bucket lists while things are still there.
Two decades ago scientists predicted that global climate change could manifest itself as extreme weather events. But not only
did no one know when or where, they could never have predicted how "extreme." Is it getting more extreme? So far
in the first half of 2019, we have passed the record for the "third wettest" period in our history. Changes can
be slow and inevitable or terrifyingly rapid.
As we write, much of the MidWest is soaked. The poster picture farmland of Nebraska,
the Dakotas, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, serene acres used to grow and export soybeans and corn and to feed the farm animals they
raise -- plus cultivate fields and fields of sunflowers -- are under water, and farmers cannot plant in flooded land. Cattle
calve in the spring and are struggling to find dry land and food for their young. Any tourists there for its bucolic
beauty stare in disbelief at the lake it has become in some places.
A trailer truck struggles against a flash flood in Arlington, Nebraska, May 2019. [Picture©ryansoderlin.AP.jpg]
For the billion
dollar tourism industry, constructing a rapid response to an unpredictable environment starts with communication.
Is the hotel flood proof? When do the worst tornadoes develop? What does our travel insurance
actually cover, and what do we do if ...?
At a conference late last year, tourism officials struggled with ways to tell their
clients when and if it is safe to go out, and above all, to offer comforting and efficient hospitality and to ensure that
travelers will not be stranded in a potentially dangerous situation. But who can predict? When a recent Alpine avalanche smashed
through the glass facade of the restaurant of a Swiss ski resort, vacationing diners and staff members worked together to help the injured and dig out the buried in the frantic minutes
before emergency crews arrived.
Tourists tend to be risk takers, generally, hoping to do things they have
never done before. It's empowering to learn something new or to be challenged to push your last vacation's challenge to the
next level, and survive, and have genuine stories to take home. But sometimes tourists go too far, such as rushing up
an unfamiliar mountain, then turning around to take a selfie. Sometimes, they make simple mistakes like overestimating their
ability to board sail, or failing to remember if traffic flows from the right or the left as they cross the street in
another country. Introduce crazy weather -- the new big disrupter -- then they taste irony
and learn what the crisis slogan "adapt, migrate, or die" can mean.
things happen quickly. Rachel Neal, a traveler who has spent a couple of decades working in "emergency preparedness,"
met her real test on the last day of a recent vacation in Japan ("The
Importance of Personal Preparedness" in FEMA Blog, Jan 21, 2019) when she joined a snorkel cruise based on a small
island off Okinawa. The weather was beautiful, the water clear and calm. Until it wasn't. Unexpectedly a wild wind came
up, creating waves that tossed the dive boat uncontrollably side to side and the passengers with it. As divers grappled to
find safety equipment and their stuff, the boat tipped over, and within minutes sank to the bottom, leaving snorkelers clinging
to anything that floated to the surface in the worsening tempest. Struggling to stay alive, Neal realized the zipper on her life jacket
was broken. "Save yourself first," she said after the group were safely on land. "Nature is a powerful force."
Don't expect to control it.
New storms tend to be
bigger and more dynamic. Storms Funani and Gelena formed about the same time in the Southern Indian Ocean in February
2019, ultimately terrorizing Mauritius. A month later tropical cyclone Idai whipped through all of southern Africa. (Photo: NOAA)
Becoming a temporary expert with tourist knowledge has its pitfalls as well.
For many years, beach hotels' staffs have offered quicky tutorials on diving-- moments before travelers strap on a tank and
hit the water. It's not as complete as an official 12-week dive certification program, but at the end of the day lightly-instructed
tourists have the same thrill of having spent a couple of hours getting to know a coral reef and encountering fish not on
the menu. But tourists are left to figure out which rules are immutable. When the dive boat captain shouts, "Get
back on the boat now!", get back on the boat now. The ocean is empty and dark.
Tourists do have a fighting advantage over sudden climate rebellion:
they can gather tons of prior knowledge about their destination and make it work for them. Find out if your destination is
prone to flash floods, wildfires, severe storms, avalanches, or riptides, -- things that are good to know more about. Invest
in some emergency equipment. Check weather forecasts. Talk to a good guide. Make a plan to save you and your companions
in a real-life crisis.
To say "Enjoy!" is specious, but impending disaster can tweak your finest responses.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Look on it as a new form of vacation adventure and offer to help: If, for example, you are traveling in
the MidWest and feel like lending a hand, flooded farmers would welcome your help feeding animals, getting hay bales to
disoriented cattle, or helping in some of the thousands of ways people in floods need help. Check local media sites, especaily
Twitter, and local police. Try Farmers' Rescue (https://farmrescue.org/get_involved/livestock.html) or American Red Cross (redcross.org) to start.
Disaster Travel Advice:
Put this site first on your list.
STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) has links to answer just about everything you could ask, including the State Department's
important Travel Alerts and Warnings. For emergencies, latest safety and
security advice, or news about your destination anytime anywhere in the world, you
can also call 888-487-4747 or 202-501-4444 in Washington. It's free.
WEATHER, Domestic or international: Download
the free app to your mobile, https://www. weather.com and add the places where you will be for current weather events and temperatures
for the next 10 days.
See also: https://www.Accuweather.com
AVALANCHES: Good advice on dangers at all levels graphically spelled out on a video from
the National Avalanche Center. https://www.avalanche.org.
HURRICANES AND CYCLONES: www.nhc.noaa.gov
STORM SURGE: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/stormsurge-stormtide.html
VOLCANOES: The Smithsonian Global
Vulcanism Program, https://volcano.si.edu/ Also see
This is one of many signs along the California coast, U.S.
Pass, Switzerland 2019 with ideal conditions for an avalanche like this one.