Seasonal Reflection: Coping With Climate Change

HNP Communications Features

During recent months, as many areas of the nation have been affected by severe weather, the Northeast was subjected to storms that brought heavy amounts of rain to the region. The town of Middleburgh, N.Y., southwest of Albany, N.Y., where Peter Chepaitis, OFM, has lived for nearly 20 years, suffered from severe flooding in June. Below, he recounts his experience with the weather that affected much of New York and surrounding areas.

It was Friday, June 14. I was in my second floor interim apartment on Main Street in Middleburgh, where I am living until my house next to Schoharie Creek — severely damaged by Hurricane Irene in 2011 — is ready for me to move back in.

The car I share with Sr. Anna Tantsits, IHM — who works with me giving parish missions and retreats — was parked in a lot across the street because I was planning to go to Delanson, N.Y., that afternoon to participate in an event to raise money for cancer survivors. I often help out at Our Lady of Fatima Parish there, where the parish life director — Mrs. Lynn O’Rourke — has recently survived pancreatic cancer.

Then it started to rain, and within 20 minutes, Main Street had become a roaring river. Schoolhouse Creek — a tiny tributary that runs under Middleburgh High School — had jumped its banks and was flowing down Main Street and onto River Street. The water was more than knee deep. Now I had to figure out how to get across the street and move the car, which was hubcap deep in floodwater.

I finally mustered up the courage to wade across the street and succeeded in moving the car to dry ground at a little higher elevation. At this point it was impossible to move it out of the flooding area completely because the area behind the bank where it was now parked was itself surrounded by water.

Then I had to solve the problem of getting back across the street to my apartment, and the water level had risen since I first waded across. After carefully looking at the options, I decided to put on my wading shoes and pick up my wading staff — my fishing equipment was in the car — and to use the skills I learned from fishing in fast-moving streams to get back across. I found a place where the current was not as strong, and started wading, moving diagonally downstream rather than fighting the full force of the current. I succeeded in getting back to my apartment, went upstairs and took a shower to wash off the dirt and toxic mud.

Anna’s second floor apartment, about a block away, was also surrounded by water from another feeder stream, but it was not as deep or fast as the water on Main Street. Both of us are okay, but the experience brought back the trauma of Irene in August 2011. This time the Schoharie Creek did not flood — my former residence on Mill Lane was not affected — but the flash flooding was almost as bad as 2011.

The rain continues to fall in the area, but Middleburgh has been spared in the latest storms. The villages of Herkimer, Mohawk and Fort Plain in Herkimer and Montgomery counties have been very hard hit in the latest round of flash flooding. My classmate from Siena College has been evacuated, and Our Lady of Hope, one of the parishes where I have helped out, suffered not only physical damage but also the death of one of their parishioners whose mobile home was swept away.

— Fr. Peter is co-director of Bethany Ministries, a spiritually diverse community of financially independent households who seek to live creatively in the tension between solitude and community, according to the organization’s website. The above photo shows Main Street in Middleburgh after the water had receded considerably, according to Fr. Peter, who lives above the building that displays the Coca Cola sign. A larger version of the photo is available behind this image.