Diary for a small planet

Published May 1, 2000

It was a subtle phrase, printed with an uncharacteristic absence of fanfare: Equatorial frost.

As the New York Times reported in its February 10 “Earthwatch: A Diary of the Planet,” this seeming oxymoron—frost at the equator—became the reality earlier this month as western Kenya experienced uncharacteristically cold weather.

Famous for its tea plantations, Kenya’s Nandi District suffered crop losses of up to 75 percent, tea companies estimated. The devastating frost destroyed more than 12,400 acres of tea.

Equatorial frost. Seems hard to believe amid the global warming hype we are forced to confront almost daily, from Presidential hopefuls, nightly news anchors, and environmental know-it-alls.

The fact is, Kenyan temperatures plummeted to a mere 14°F—frigid weather in anybody’s climate. Indeed, one elderly woman died as a result of the Kenyan cold snap.

That’s right—a native of equatorial Africa died from the cold!

Yet the Times‘ “Diary of the Planet” devoted just two inches of copy to this remarkable weather event, listing it fourth in a round-up that included volcanic lava flow down an uninhabited mountain in the Congo, Peruvian coastal desert flooding, migrating sand dunes in Libya, a minor Iranian earthquake, and an increasing stork population in Spain.

Some diary. We can’t help imagining that if the planet really did keep a journal, it would no doubt remark on how sadly misunderstood it is, how no one seems to grasp the subtle nuances, the changeability that makes its character and climate complex—and how even the much-celebrated general circulation models fail to predict what it will do next.

Amy Lemley is managing editor of World Climate Report, a biweekly electronic newsletter on the science and politics of global climate change.


________, New York Times, 2000. Earthwatch: a diary of the planet, February 10.