A weather report for la longue durée

My dad writes a weekly outdoors column, and yesterday’s installment mentioned something I’ve been teasing him about for years: his almost-daily emails to the family always include a weather report. Typically we learn what actually happened yesterday (as opposed to yesterday’s email’s speculation), what’s happening now, and what he thinks is going to happen next. For Dad, this stuff matters. As he puts it:

Some people in our extended family think I’m a little strange because I’m always reporting on the daily weather. I plead guilty, but my weather fascination comes from growing up on a farm, where virtually everything that happens, good or bad, is weather related. My farm days were long ago, but when it comes to outdoor activities, it’s still the weather that makes the rules.

Mira replied with her reassurance that she should not be counted among those in the extended family who question it. To which I replied, “No, Mira, he means me–and the more I tease him about it, the more “extended” is the part of the family I belong to. Right, Pop?” 

And this blog post was born…

Because me, I just don’t get it. Growing up in the snow belt, I wanted it to snow, soon, often, and deep, with blizzards a plus. Ten below or forty, it was all good–although ten was certainly better for the rare tobogganing opportunity or routine fort-building exercises, and on an ice-fishing day, it might as well have been forty below, because after half an hour of looking at a hole in the lake not going anywhere, it was going to feel forty below no matter what the temperature actually was.

Winter wasn’t the only season, of course, just the longest and best one. By spring when you’re just sick to death of it all, and here I mean May, the important weather details are 30˚: over this, Mom lets us ditch the boots and get our bikes out. And 40˚: over this,  Mom lets us wear our jean jackets.

an acrylic painting by Kevin Vang
an acrylic painting by Kevin Vang

From spring until summer, the weather details don’t matter–not until the swimming pool opens, and cooler than 62 or so means that biking to the pool in the morning for lessons wearing only a swimsuit, with a towel around your neck, is achingly cold, and the pool is hard to get into. Rain matters but only a lot of it–a wimpy little summer shower means hurry up and bike to your lessons; only a full-on thunderstorm means swimming lessons are canceled. A thunderstorm also means that the plains feel electric, not just literally; the big prairie sky cooks itself up some drama to go with the bolts of lightning, which you’ve noticed in Kevin’s skyscapes. (My brother is a painter, and an example of his skyscapes is what you see here.)

Above 80 means it’s too damned hot. Clouds or blue skies don’t matter much when it’s too damned hot.

Well, above 70 means that, really.

Which brings us to fall. Fall is just a long, slow tease, where the evenings darken earlier and earlier until it’s just plain unfair that we’re still waiting for the first snowstorm. Fall rains are boring. Without the electricity of a good summer gullywasher, fall rains are just wet. Soggy maybe. The ground gets mucky, your feet get heavier, and yeah, on those other days, the leaves are pretty–and, oh, look! there’s Orion!–but can we just have a blizzard now and get on with it?

That, to me, is the yearlong cycle of relevant weather reports. The day to day details just change what it is you see outside while you’re inside practicing or at school wondering when it’s going to snow already.

Here in California–and now I’m writing to my biological family, not to you, Mira–the weather isn’t daily or even seasonal, so much as it is geographical. My neighborhood, cool and foggy, warmer in the afternoon, foggy and cold at night. For a month or two around the winter solstice, we usually get a lot of rain but rarely so much as a wimpy twig of lightning–just wet cold rain, and lots of it, except for the decades where we barely get any and have to think twice about flushing. This is the time of year it gets down into the 40s, and in our wimpy California clothing and poorly insulated houses with single-pane windows, that can feel darned cold. “It’s a WET cold,” you hear us protest, as if that means anything–because it does. Wet cold feels colder. It gets into your bones, so that nothing short of a long soak in a hot tub can warm you back up. I know because I commute through the fog, over the bridge, on a motorcycle, and certain times of year, that electric vest barely keeps up.

For a few weeks every summer, it gets warm enough that we plug in fans and worry that the critters in their fur coats might wilt while we’re in an air-conditioned office building.

Mira’s neighborhood? Pretty much the same, but a little cooler and foggier.

Other neighborhoods–many of them called “suburbs”–can get more of a summer going, pretty much year-round, except for the rains when they come. They don’t get the daily cloud-scrub we do, so their air is dirtier, and we don’t like to be in those places longer than we have to. There’s a reason we live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and we call it “The Fog.”

So there you have it, one weather commentary to cover the first thirty and the last eighteen years of my life.

What the next thirty might bring is the stuff of Mira’s nightmares. We call it “climate change,” and far from leaving us skeptical it’s freaking us the heck out.