By Matt Reese
The slate roof of our old farmhouse has weathered the test of more than a century of everything Mother Nature had to dole out. And, for most of its lifetime, the roof has been cared for by the Hoshor family. Carl Hoshor recently turned 90 years old, but he is still actively involved in his roofing business. That’s right, a 90-year-old roofer.
We needed some work done on the slate roof of our old farmhouse last spring and contacted him to do the job. Everyone around told us he was the best. His sons Rick and Gary do the bulk of the rooftop labor now, but old Carl is still doing the bids and budgets for the jobs, “supervising,” and helping out from the ground level. The business is based in nearby Baltimore.
Part of the job at our house was the removal of an old brick chimney that was damaged by a small tornado in the spring of 2011. Carl watched from the ground as his sons dismantled the same chimney that he helped install 65 years earlier while working for his father, Joseph. Now THAT is what I call seeing a job through to completion!
But, as it turns out, the roofing job wasn’t completed, at least not for long. A few weeks after the roof repair, our house was again blasted with intense wind by the super derecho that whooshed through Ohio in late June. The damage was not as severe as it was with the tornado the previous spring, but our roof was once again a few slates short after the intense storm.
So, after just two visits to our home in 65 years, Carl made a third visit just a few weeks later to patch up some more roof damage. That speaks volumes about the weather we’ve had. Old Carl, and the slates he has cared for on our house, have seen quite a bit of weather from the unique rooftop perspective, but Carl admits that he hasn’t seen anything quite like that super derecho. Is the increasing frequency of roof repair a sign of the changing climate that is so often discussed these days?
Last year certainly made a strong case for a changing climate with its extreme disasters and unusual weather events that put an exclamation point on what has been a widening departure from “normal” weather in recent years. Those in agriculture certainly have taken notice. In 2012 farmers faced everything from a drought to high winds that caused headaches throughout the growing and harvest seasons on crop farms. And, just when they were recovering from slogging through months of endless mud, livestock producers had to scramble to make the most of their pastures and forages that were wilting beneath the scorching summer sun.
In general, I would guess most farmers (and slate roof owners) were perfectly content to say goodbye to 2012 and the weather woes that accompanied it. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2012 included 356 all-time record high maximum temperatures broken or tied in the U.S and 65.5% of the contiguous U.S. was experiencing drought in September.
In Ohio, 2012 was the warmest year on record for Akron, Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. Toledo had its second warmest year and Youngstown had its third warmest. The Ohio spring of 2012 was seven degrees warmer than average and the winter of 2011/2012 was 5.2 degrees warmer than average. This year tied Ohio’s the warmest calendar year record high temperature with 1998.
From a recent NOAA report, “In 2012, the contiguous United States (CONUS) average annual temperature of 55.3°F was 3.2°F above the 20th century average, and was the warmest year in the 1895-2012 period of record for the nation. The 2012 annual temperature was 1.0°F warmer than the previous record warm year of 1998. Since 1895, the CONUS has observed a long-term temperature increase of about 0.13°F per decade. Precipitation averaged across the CONUS in 2012 was 26.57 inches, which is 2.57 inches below the 20th century average. Precipitation totals in 2012 ranked as the 15th driest year on record. Over the 118-year period of record, precipitation across the CONUS has increased at a rate of about 0.16-inch per decade.”
NOAA has estimated that 2012 will surpass 2011 in aggregate costs for U.S. annual billion-dollar disasters, in large part due to the destruction from Sandy and the devastating drought. Many climate scientists argue these types of events are fueled by climate change, which may be true. It seems fairly clear that the climate is changing, but what is controlling the climate?
The politically hot debate surrounding the role of mankind in the changing climate is really not quite so political when you start looking at the numbers, at least according to climatologist Evelyn Browning-Garriss.
“Whatever mankind has done is on top of a long-term cycle of warming. There are natural reasons for climate change, and man’s impact can make some of these changes more extreme,” she said in a presentation at the Ohio Grain Farmers Symposium late last year. “Man and nature work together. Mankind cannot compete with a huge volcano, but they are temporary. Man has a slow, steady, constant impact. I think there is human influence, but we are often getting credit for all of it and some of it is natural.”
Ultimately, throughout the history of agriculture, farmers have faced and overcome countless extreme weather challenges before, and they can do it again. And, as Browning-Garriss also pointed out, the weather extremes we are seeing now are not as unprecedented as they may seem. It is just that we haven’t been around long enough to see the long-term climate cycles take place, well most of us, anyway.
After his third visit to my roof in 65 years, Old Carl looked up at my ancient slate roof and told me that it should be good for another 50 years, if we take care of it. But is that 50 years of super derechos, scorching heat waves and tornadoes, or 50 years of more “normal” weather? I don’t know. I didn’t question him. Who would argue with a 90-year-old roofer?