Katy Burns: Whither the weather?
It was Wednesday night, and my sister was hunkered down in her house in Charlotte, N.C. She had food, drink, books, DVDs and her laptop. Should the power go out, she was ready with plenty of warm blankets, firewood cadged from a neighbor, candles, flashlights and one furry dog and two furry cats who like to cuddle.
Outside, the snow was piling up – 6, 7 inches – and an ice storm was starting.
She didn’t know what the course of the storm would be, but she did know one thing. It would likely be sometime Friday – at the earliest – before she could venture from the house. And possibly longer before she’d be able to drive anywhere. Her car, now encased in snow and ice, was on the street in front of the steep driveway down to her garage.
There were no snowplows in her future. Not in her neighborhood. The main highway would be plowed. But everything else could wait for a thaw.
She was bummed. She knew nasty winters well, having grown up in northeastern Ohio – lake-effect snow is evil stuff indeed – and lived for years in a suburb of New York City. But she went south! Her blood thinned! She likes it that way.
And now, real winter has reared its head in paradise.
And so it has gone in the South in the last few weeks. Snow and ice have been pummeling the place. From Texas through Georgia and north, cars, trucks and buses slip and slide spectacularly. Images of cars abandoned along highways and byways, ice-coated trees toppling and carrying ice-coated wires to the ground fill news broadcasts and the internet.
Children, stranded, sleep in schools and even school buses. Other people sleep in their cars. There is no heat, no water, no food.
Authorities exhort residents to stay home, to hunker down and hope the power doesn’t go out.
There are heroics – a deputy sheriff, for example, perseveres through a blizzard to make sure an elderly woman’s oxygen supply is replenished. And, inevitably, babies are delivered in cars. There are always babies delivered in cars that couldn’t quite make it to hospitals in terrible weather.
It’s dramatic, as weather extravaganzas always are. This time, we here in the always cold and usually snowy Northeast shake our heads and deplore the trials and tribulations of our southern kin. We are so sorry.
And then – sneakily – a lot of us snicker. Just a little! And we ever so discreetly roll our eyes. Good grief, a little snow, a little ice, and civilization as they know it just collapses? What wusses!
After all, how many times have we been encased in snow and ice, only to have friends and family in more clement climes snicker at our misfortune and talk about how cold their weather is at, oh, 50 degrees or so?
Ah, the weather. While politics, religion and matters of social mores become ever more toxic in casual discourse, the weather is a subject that never fails to fascinate, to grab center stage in our national narrative. And people can have lively discussions without any sort of verbal fisticuffs.
Weather is still a staple of television news. Even folks who’ve abandoned scheduled TV will make an exception when it comes to weather forecasts and weather stories.
Tapes of people in Alaska in shirtsleeves and shorts in January are irresistible, just as are endless shots of exuberant kids sliding down hills while enjoying unexpected snow days.
The grim visuals of parched and cracked land, dying fruit trees and empty, dust-dry reservoirs of California during its current drought are, indeed, worth thousands of words describing the terrible phenomenon.
And the pictures of the endless and astonishing floods inundating vast swathes of southern England – brought on by unrelenting rain, more than in at least two centuries – almost defy description.
Even the Olympic Games are in danger of being upstaged by the weather, presumably the one place where Russian strongman Vladimir Putin couldn’t exercise iron-fisted control (though not for want of trying, including stockpiling mountains of snow in advance of the games). A sudden warming spell – temperatures in the 60s and 70s – are turning snowy venues into slush, and world-class athletes are sliding and slushing like beginners on a bunny slope – although the slopes they’re trying to navigate are considerably more dangerous.
We hear there’s the chance of yet another snowstorm here this weekend. So we check to make sure we that have an adequate supply of hot chocolate and that there’s ample firewood stacked next to the stove.
I hear from my sister that the thaw has begun for her. She has heard birds sing, she exclaims in an email! Now it will be her turn to snicker at those of us in the still frozen North.
It’s all about the weather, y’know?
(“Monitor” columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)