What now seems normal would have been considered highly abnormal just a few years ago.
I live in a continental climate with traditionally cold winters, hot summers and plentiful precipitation that’s equally distributed throughout the year.
That probably best describes the weather we used to enjoy. But today the winters are not cold, the summers are scorching hot and the precipitation (snow, rain) is anything except equally distributed.
experienced this ‘climate weirding’ first hand. Initially, when I
started planting stuff around my farm, it would be “Okay, I’ll plant
that in spring and then there’s plenty of rain to water everything” or
“I’ll just sow these cover crops in May and they’ll establish before the
heat kicks in.”
Although that was a good strategy for a while, lately (i.e. the last few years) we’ve been increasingly ravaged by droughts and heatwaves. This lack of water and extreme heat in critical moments has cost me seedlings, trees and the thousands of seeds that died on me due to being unprepared.
Simply relying on getting rain when you need it just isn’t a good strategy anymore.
Now, according to historic climate data, this shouldn’t be happening; the weather should be much milder and more predictable. And there lies the problem: historic data and averages no longer serve us well because we are increasingly moving into uncharted territory as regards the climate. There is no predictability anymore – each coming year sets a new precedent for what we can expect in the next one.
The only remedy to this is to observe and note the extremes so that we can be prepared to deal with them.
Ever since I had that realization, I became more serious about collecting data about the weather extremes. Consequently, specifically for this end, I created what I call an “observation dashboard”. Here’s how it looks:
It’s a spreadsheet with four main columns, that’s integrated with some online tools to monitor the weather and baseline climate data.
In it I note down all the relevant monthly weather data and significant weather events specific to my farm’s micro-location. For example, this could include how much precipitation I got that month, and the extremes of temperature, winds and other month-specific climate observations.
This data-gathering process has proven to be crucial to understanding the climate context relating to my piece of land. In particular, this is because it is super site-specific. The nearest city which I usually get my climate and weather data is 20 km away, over the mountain, on flat land, while my farm, conversely, is in a valley, on a slope, and in a totally different microclimate.
By observing the weather and taking notes of the extremes I learned what the environment is saying to me so that I can adapt my design solutions accordingly. So rather than getting caught out by a persistent drought, heatwave, flash flood, or snowmageddon, I can anticipate and plan around it.
If we are to make this vital decade the period of land regeneration, I believe we all have to take a more active approach to understanding the microclimate of our location. With this information to hand, we then need to use the appropriate tools, techniques, and strategies to counter the negative effects caused by climate change.
Luckily, today, in our technological age, we have plenty of tools at our disposal to help us to observe and understand our changing environment. So now let me now outline my ‘site observation method’ and how to go about collecting the weather data you’ll need for your permaculture design.
Step 1. Find out the baseline weather patterns
It’s always a good idea to first set the baseline so you know what’s ‘normal’. For this go to the website of your government’s meteorological organization and find out more about the average temperatures, wind speeds and directions, precipitation types and distribution for your location – usually the nearest town/city.
To shortcut this process and to save time I would recommend you go to Meteoblue or Weatherspark websites and type in your nearest town/city. Following this, you’ll get the most comprehensive climate report you’ve ever seen, for free, in just a few seconds. (I told you we’ve got some great tools at our disposal!)
Note the average precipitation, its distribution, wind speeds and directions, average min and max temperatures, frost occurrences, and so on. Enter this data into a spreadsheet you make yourself or use the template I’ve prepared for you below.
This information right here is your baseline…
Step 2. Create an observation dashboard
Next, you’ll need a handy way to track the weather events. For this purpose, use your computer to create a spreadsheet with four main columns:
- Month – the corresponding month
- Precipitation – the amount of the precipitation your site receives in a given month
- Month-specific weather/climate observation – the notable observed weather events
- Notes – your notes about any of these above
If you want, you can grab a spreadsheet template of my observation dashboard. Feel free to copy it and adapt it to your needs. (File -> Make Copy)
Step 3. Observe and note down the weather events
Once you have the dashboard ready, you can start filling in the data. To track the precipitation volume, the best thing is to get a good old rain gauge, put it somewhere visible, and take readings at the end of the month. Readings for a nearby weather station are okay, but nothing beats doing it yourself on the site as you’ll develop that true feeling of what it means to get 10, 50, or 100 mm of rain.
For other observations, like extremes of wind and temperatures, you can use this weather app to make the readings. It’s another great tool in the observers’ toolbox, with all the current weather data available at a glance.
Now, don’t obsess over tracking every minuscule weather detail, that’s not the point. Just go about your life and you’ll soon know when things are a bit out of the ordinary. When you spot something unusual, just note down the event. This, could be, for example, unusually strong winds, very high temperatures, very low temperatures, thunderstorms and hailstorms, unusual late/early frosts, etc.
Write down your observations, compare them to the baseline, and add your comments…
Over time you’ll collect some very interesting insights that are very site-specific and you’ll start to develop a deeper understanding of the climate and weather patterns.
You can then use the data to make better design decisions, such as protecting your crops from strong summer storms and their winds, providing irrigation to your orchard trees, designing a pond with enough water to survive the drought…
Now, understanding your climate and performing the site observation and assessment is just one small piece of the whole permaculture design puzzle.
BEFORE you start doing your site observations, you first and foremost need to know what your design goals are and what the underlying context is, and AFTER you do the site observation, you still need to plan the farm layout using permaculture design methods.
But more on that in some of my future posts. So make sure to subscribe to my newsletter to follow along.
Until then, stay safe everyone!