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A Yankee Notebook

February 16  2014


MONTPELIER – If I’d been talking with an old-timer out in the yard today, and the weather had come up, as it always did, he’d’ve squinted into the clear blue sky and proclaimed, “Weather breeder.” Pressed for details, he’d’ve pointed out that the temperature was rising, the wind was acting shifty, and his knees were hurting.

He’d’ve been right about the temperature, that’s for sure; it was 46 degrees warmer on the shaded back porch this afternoon than it was this morning at 5 o’clock. And the wind was acting a little squirrely, a sure sign of a change. But old-timers these days don’t rely as much on their knees as once they did, because like me, they most likely are sporting prostheses, which don’t hurt more or less depending on the weather.

The term itself – weather breeder – is also disappearing from our cultural vocabulary as ever fewer people rely on natural hints and more folks check their mobile devices for round-the-clock weather forecasts. I’ve always understood the expression to be unique to the Northeast, but it’s probably originally British. Thackeray uses it in one of his novels.

The weather in the southern United States competed for the news lead today with the results from the thus-far warm, soggy winter Olympic games. News media, of course, rely on conflict, drama, and calamity as the grist for their mills; without them, they are lost.

Some friends and I had a one-day layover several years ago in the Inuit village of Kangiqsualujjuaq in far northern Quebec. The doublewide that served as our hotel boasted a tiny TV lounge. It carried only one station, however: the BBC affiliate in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It was obviously a slow news day in St. John’s. The only conflict the station could muster was the fact that in the current election cycle there was only one candidate for mayor. The item was broadcast each hour on the hour. In desperation, the station also turned often to a prerecorded feature about an innovative toilet that used very little water and yet could flush 40 ping pong balls down a transparent 4-inch line representing a home soil line. Two construction workers sharing the lounge with us watched the demonstration with some interest. One of them piped up as the ping pong balls once again bubbled past the camera, “That’s pretty good, but how many people poop ping pong balls?” How I yearned for another mayoral candidate to emerge in St. John’s!

Stung by the disastrously late and inadequate response to last week’s snow-and-ice storm in Atlanta, and facing an election challenge this year from a strong opponent, the Governor of Georgia today reacted preemptively to the scary weather forecast for this week’s storm. Georgia is essentially shut down except for emergency and road-clearing services. Shoppers have ransacked stores for emergency supplies and groceries; there’s not a small electric generator to be had; and power company repair trucks and men are on standby all across the Southeast. The storm is apparently raging through Georgia and South Carolina as I write. The Governor’s lookin’ good.

Which brings me back to today’s weather breeder here. You couldn’t ask for a better February day – the kind of day that our long-ago Swedish-American friends in Hanover, the Gundersons, dragged chaise longues out onto their south-facing patio and, to the amazement of the neighbors, lay there in bathing suits soaking up the winter sun. I noticed that the turkeys came earlier than usual for their rolled corn, and then came back in a little while, like Oliver Twist, asking for more. The animals and birds always know more about what’s about to happen than we do; we get the edge on them nowadays by instrumentation. I checked my little desktop weather station. It showed a downward pressure trend, cloudy skies with precipitation in the forecast, and high humidity. The online weather map confirmed it. The nearly full moon rose in the late afternoon, but I had a feeling I wouldn’t be seeing it again for a few days. We appear to be in for it.

Mother and I and a daughter and son-in-law have reservations for flights to Arkansas this weekend, but we’re scheduled to change planes in Atlanta, which at the moment is hors de combat; so we’ll either go or we won’t. Just in case we do, and can’t get back, I’m going to submit this column before our scheduled departure time.

Mark Twain used to crack that, if you were unhappy with the weather in New England, all you had to do was wait 15 minutes and it’d be different. He was right; it is fickle. The good news is that, since our national weather typically moves from west to east, we can see it coming for at least several days. Even if it weren’t for the dire reports of the current storm’s rampage through the South, we could take a cue from today. The Arctic high that’s given us the crisp below-zero nights this past week is slowly moving eastward out over the ocean, dragging a warmer low pressure system behind it. This weather breeder is the last of the departing high pressure system.

If I step outside last thing tonight to check the moon and the stars, I expect they’ll be in a haze. It may start to snow during the night. Or the dawn may be one of those gray, gravid mornings promising excitement during the afternoon commute. If the predictions come true – we’re pretty accustomed to hyperventilation by weather forecasters around here, and almost never believe the calamitous scenarios will actually transpire – we’ll get maybe a foot of snow before the next high pressure system arrives, and those plane tickets won’t get used. But this is New England, A couple of feet of snow just before a three-day weekend in February is no calamity. It’s a bonanza. I can only wish Mr. Putin could be so lucky over there in the other major source of news.

Photo by Willem lange