The Difference in Distance

When the rest of the World thinks about the United States it seems that New York, and maybe a connecting flight routed through Chicago to San Francisco come to mind. New York may be the only city a visitor from another country might visit. When Hurricane Sandy hit the United States’ East Coast the world was paying attention. Finland was paying attention.

(Photo from NOAA) Storm watch of Hurricane Sandy

I do not understand very well the science behind hurricanes, but this video from the Upworthy site explains the weather and temperatures that supercharged this super storm in an understandable way http://www.upworthy.com/how-do-you-explain-hurricane-sandy-like-this.

I have been filtering through the various news sites, seeing Facebook posts regarding the storm and trying to answer questions about hurricanes from the concerned Finns (who somehow seem to have more reliable news access than me.) My heart absolutely goes out to the school children shivering in unheated classrooms today, homes without power, and the people who have lost homes, family members, neighbors and friends in this storm.

NOAA Image of Hurricane

It is odd that it took a bit of time for me to find the facts in the articles about the hurricane because, finding a reliable news source and filtering through the political influence the storm will cause today on election day was a task.  November 6th, is well known by Finland as the United States’ Presidential election and they are very curious about what the results will be.  Finland’s general consensus seems that they support Obama and I find it interesting that as a country they closely follow our political decisions, impact and elections.

It feels different to be looking at events like the election and hurricane from the outside perspective of living in a foreign country. Finland, like many other countries in the world really pays attention to American culture, economics, war effort, weather and politics. It is also interesting to see how the damage to Cuba and the Caribbean were so overshadowed by the damage caused in New York by Hurricane Sandy.

When I first arrived in Finland a few people asked me what it was like to live in a country that has hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and earthquakes, as if we lived in such a dangerous place. Coming from California, my home is really only at risk for earthquakes and wildfires not the other types of damage. The closest coastal towns near mine are in a tsunami warning zone.  However, when a storm hits America of course we are aware of it, but in general people from the West Coast fear tornadoes more than earthquakes and  people in the Midwest often think just the opposite of that. In the same way perhaps we do not understand the damage to those area unless we see it first hand, as a few of my firefighter friends are seeing in New York right now. We cannot always trust what we see in the news.

It seems that we fear what we have not yet experienced and perhaps Finland that constantly deals with extreme cold (frightening to many Southern Californians right Melissa?) is weather they prepare for. In fact, Finland was met with it’s own once in a lifetime storm nearly a month ago. Take a look at the pictures below before and after the flooding that damaged acres of crops in the flat, farming region.

The river dock next to the Ilmajoki SeAMK campus before flooding.

Same dock, after the storm.

The river nearly doubled! More information about the September flooding can be found on the MTV3 article (use a online translator, my Google chrome worked well.) Almost overnight nearly 15 000 hectares filled up in the Southern Ostrobothnia region where the exchange students are living. It is not comparable to the massive damage caused in New York, but an interesting event to learn about because in Finland this was a big deal.

In Finland the consensus is that climate change is happening. They are able to grown corn and other crops that could never be grown in their climate before. Living in a different country with different politics, land use organization, and attitudes toward environment around us makes me think about what will happen in America, and the world, if super storms like Sandy continue to impact our major cities. Will the people move? Will we rebuild like New Orleans? How are we doing as a country to prepare for these natural disasters and how much can we really prepare? The politics, economics and science behind climate change are too large of scope for my little blog,  just something that to me seems more vivid the more distance I have to see the differences.

What do you think?

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