A TALE OF TWO BLIZZARDS

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The above picture is from a post by Joe Bastardi called “How Close Can You Get?” on his WeatherBELL site. I am always plugging that site for people who delight in following the weather, because he and Joseph D’Aleo have deep understanding, and a delightful way of sharing their knowledge to laymen. The site costs fifty cents a day, which is about as much as most lose in their washing machine on a regular basis, and an amount that can often be found cleaning the floor of your car.

The two pictures show how huge the blizzard that clobbered us was, and how huge the blizzard that barely brushed us was, and how they both had eyes like hurricanes, and how both were within fifty miles of “bombing out” in the exact same spot.

In a post called “Similarities and differences in the two weekend storms” Joe D’Aleo does a wonderful job of explaining why one storm gave Boston more than two feet of snow, and the second gave Boston only five inches. To a layman like myself, that was a great mystery, and I enjoyed having the mystery solved.

One factor, which greatly influenced the snows over New England, wasn’t the storm itself, but the cold high pressure north of the storm. In the first blizzard it was oriented in a way that blew east to west, bringing ocean air and moisture and snow into the mix, while in the second blizzard the same high pressure was oriented in a way the blew north to south, bringing drier air into the mix.

In other words, rather than focusing on the storm, I should have been focusing on the sunny weather to the north. But of course that is just what I would fail to do.

Considering I can’t even predict what a storm will do in six hours, I am very much in awe of the fact Joe Bastardi suggested both blizzards might be exactly where they were more than a week in advance, and was adamant about them “bombing out” several days before they actually did. On both occasions the hundred million dollar GFS computer predicted the storms would move well out to sea.

Considering the GFS computer costs so much, and Joe Bastardi costs loose change, yet Joe does the better job, I think we still have proof brains are better than machines. Or I think that until I read the comments on the WeatherBELL site.

The comments make me deeply ashamed to be a weather geek. Despite the fact I work with small children at my Childcare, I seldom see such immature behavior. In fact I only read the comments to learn more about extreme immaturity than I already know. The tantrums of those weather geeks make even the rude jocks who comment on sports blogs look genteel.

I can only understand the tantruming of weather geeks because, back when I was in my early twenties and had failed to sell my writing, I too was a loser living in my Mother’s basement. I too lived a life so devoid of meaning and excitement that my only hope of excitement was a snowstorm or tornado or hurricane, or maybe a volcano erupting in my back yard.

When a storm threatened, I didn’t think of all the suffering it might cause. Instead I clapped my hands in glee because my own suffering, (basically a deadly monotony I’d brought upon myself,) might end. Then, when the storm went out to sea, and my hopes were dashed, the horror of my plight came home to me with a vengeance. In fact my bitterness was so extreme I resorted to behavior that shocked even my decadent fellow bohemians: I went out and got a real job.

The job was at a herring cannery on the Royal River in Yarmouth, Maine, and it reeked. For a poet like myself, sensitive and deeply in need of advances and grants in order to become even more sensitive, it was a rude awakening. Also, to my complete astonishment, it turned out to be a complete blast. The pay was no good, but the cast of characters was fantastic.

However that is a tale for another winter’s evening. My point is that I left the situation that was so empty and frustrating, and did something besides blame weathermen for the fact a storm missed dumping snow on me, and missed making my dull life interesting, by a mere fifty miles.

It is truly amazing to read the comments on the WeatherBELL site, written by people who haven’t left the basement yet. (Maybe they aren’t actually in their Mother’s basement, but they have to be in some sorts of basement to allow themselves to become so warped by disappointment.) It is well worth fifty cents a day to study their prose, for they truly are Masters, when it comes to foaming at the mouth and writhing about on the floor while kicking.

The irony is that the two Joe’s they rage at (and actually blame for their own self-created disappointment) are men who left their mother’s basement (if they ever lingered there at all.) They went out and studied meteorology, and public relations, and start-up businesses, and became amazingly good at what they do.

Geeks shouldn’t advise experts, because until an egg becomes a chicken, it should not advise chickens how to lay.

In my own case I did get out. I got out of my mother’s basement, but landed in a worse basement, the basement of a herring cannery. There, down in the bowls of the factory, lit by what seemed to be a single forty watt bulb, was a place called the “gurry room,” where a waterfall of sludge came from above, went through moaning machinery, screened the guts and scales and bones and skins from the water, and moved the fleshy mess along a conveyer belt to a truck which would transport it to a fertilizer factory. The process was imperfect, and guts fell from the machinery and made piles on the floor. My job, if I agreed to accept it, was to shovel the piles back into the groaning machine, and then to wash the room down with a fire hose so powerful it would pin me against the wall.

I later learned they always put new employees into the gurry room, especially if they looked at all soft, because it was a good way of finding out if people could stand the filth and stench and racket of the cannery. Most couldn’t, and the guy hiring me was pretty sure a prissy, la-di-dah artist like me would run screaming from the place.

He had no idea how bad my mother’s basement was. Anything was better. I just told myself God was everywhere, and therefore God must even be among the fish guts, and started shoveling. Right as I had that thought, I noticed a twinkling all around me. I thought the fumes must be getting to me, and blinked my eyes, but the shimmering didn’t stop. I then decided it was likely some sort of hallucination, likely brought on by stress, (or perhaps a flashback due to some parties I went to as a teenager,) but in any case it wasn’t hurting me, and actually made shoveling gurry more enjoyable.

It was while pinned against a wall, spraying the room down with a firehose, that I noticed the hose reduced the shimmering from sections of the wall. Only then did the scientist awake in me, and did I stop practicing psychology and start to scrutinize the glittering. It turned out to be millions upon millions of herring scales, stuck to every object in the room. Not even the firehose could completely clean the machinery, for the grip of the scales was tenacious, and even if you budged them they tended to just splash to another surface and adhere there.

Right then a bellowing penetrated the noise of the machinery and roar of the fire hose. It was my boss, peering down the hatch atop the steep iron stair that led down into that pit, asking me what the deleted deleted deleted I thought I was doing. When I explained I was trying to wash away the scales, he told me not to be such a deleted deleted delete, to shut the deleted deleted fire hose off, and get my deleted up to the deleted deleted next job.

(That’s how they talk, at a cannery.)

He took me outside to where a January Gale was howling from the northwest, to where a big tank-truck was parked. It was one of those semis that you see delivering gasoline to big gas stations, or moving milk from big dairies to bottling plants, only this one was moving herring from the docks to the cannery. A silver stream of herring poured out the back onto a conveyer belt, and then abruptly stopped. Besides herring, the truck also held some big and fat fish that preyed on herring, and one had lodged in the exit. Someone had to go into the truck’s tank to remove the fish. Everyone looked at me, the new guy, and grinned.

I grinned right back, then climbed atop the truck and lowered myself through the hole. The interior was waist deep in fish, and the ceiling was only shoulder high, so you had to hunch forward as you worked your way through the near darkness to the rear, to reach down through slippery slime and remove the fat silver hake from the exit, but it didn’t bother me a bit. Instead I was filled with an insane happiness. I had this feeling that nothing could stop me.

I wrote about it later, describing how the crude workplace didn’t mean I wasn’t a sensitive artist any more. Actually I was more sensitive. The other artists would recoil, afraid of the dark, but I went forward, sensing what they couldn’t bear to sense, because they were so prissy. Therefore, because I dared sense what they couldn’t, it proved I was more sensitive.

Now it is nearly forty years later. I am sixty. I never had the success (if you can call it that), which my fellow sensitive artists earned. Most of them died young.

Me? I’ve had my successes. For example, I raised five beautiful children and have seen them head off as beautiful adults. However, when you are sixty, past successes are like homeruns you used to be able to hit. You are like an old athlete, all washed up.

If I am not careful, I can make a sort of mother’s basement out of my aging. I can look in the mirror in the morning and see a guy who wanted to be a writer, but failed, and wanted to be a farmer, but failed, and instead is just a cotton picking baby-sitter, who calls baby-sitting, “being a Child Care Professional,” because I need to save my precious ego, the same way a garbage man calls himself a “Sanitary Engineer.”

However if I do that I am senile, and forgetting a success in my life better than money and power and babes and fame and any things the Good Life can offer.

And what is that success?

It is something I learned when I saw glitter in the bowls of a cannery: God is in the gurry.

How could the bowels of a cannery’s cellar have been better than the comfortable cushions of my mother’s cellar? The cannery was better because in my mother’s cellar I was cowering, but when I ventured out I was not cowering.

Yesterday would have been a good day to cower. The second blizzard may have missed us, in terms of snow, but it sure didn’t miss us in terms of wind. It was howling from the north, and was five degrees (F) at dawn, and I was attempting to interest the children at my Childcare in drawing pictures indoors, but for some reason they were not into cowering.

They wanted to go out to the steep slope of the flood-control dam, sled down that steepness until they reached breakneck speed, and then rattle far out over the frozen surface of the reservoir. And then do it again. And again. And again. As I froze my socks off, watching them…

…Until, just to stay warm, I hopped on a sled, achieved breakneck speed on the steepness, and worried about losing all the fillings in my molars as I shot out across the bumpy, frozen ice.

I had absolutely no desire to do it again, nor again, but lugging the sled back up for the kids to use did warm me up, and as I glanced about, huffing and puffing, I suddenly noticed, in the late afternoon sun, all the snow about me was glittering….and once again I saw God in the gurry.

In the end the difference between two blizzards is not really measured by a ruler probing the depth of the snow. The true measure is your attitude.

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6 thoughts on “A TALE OF TWO BLIZZARDS

  1. If your comments were geared toward me then you need to know I do not live in my mother’s basement. It is offensive to read your non facts. To be honest this country is based on freedom of speech. I am allowed to voice my opinion about the Weatherbell site and whether or not I feel I am getting my monies worth. That is my right as an American.
    Just to be clear I am an accomplished engineer working for a consulting engineering firm. I design multi-million dollar projects. If my designs (my passion) was as wrong as the Weatherbell forecast I would loose clients and a hell of a lot of money. No I do not live in my Mother’s basement but do quite well. You should get to know the person and situations before sending out generalities about a persons opinion.

    • My comments were not aimed towards any person in particular. I don’t recognize your name. However if you take offence then perhaps you feel you said something I might object to.

      The “basement” I refered to does not have to be your “mother’s.” It can be a different sort of basement, a mental one.

      Perhaps you should be told that no one can engineer the weather. When you compare engineering with forecasting you are comparing apples with oranges. Weather is a chaotic system with so many variables that even attempting to forecast it is a bit outrageous.

      It is only when you realize the difficulty involved that you appreciate how excellent the “Two Joes” are.

      My grandfather was an engineer, and I greatly appreciate the solid, pragmatic work engineers do. However my grandfather taught me that even the most solid and well-designed structures can be tested by events and situations that were not foreseen. He called it Murphy’s Law. For example, in Europe a sewer system stopped working correctly because a law was passed that people had to put in toilets that used less water, and suddenly there wasn’t enough flow to move all the sludge down the sewer to the treatment plant. The engineers who designed that sewer had planned for increases in population and possible floods, but failed to even imagine such a law could be passed.

      I hope your designs are never tested by Murphy’s Law, but it can and has happened to even the best engineers. If it does, then you will have a slight taste what happens to weather forecasters on a daily and even hourly basis. They are dealing with so many variables on so many layers of the atmosphere that something unforeseen is always occuring. For example, there was suppose to be an El Nino this winter, and it simply faded away. That is Murphy’s Law, like planning to engineer a riverfront development, and then having the river abruptly change its course.

      In any case, of course you have every right to speak your mind, and most certainly don’t have to pay for WeatherBELL if you don’t want to. I’m just a bit sad you are missing a beauty there that is obvious to me.

      • Re-reading your post I think you’re being less than honest because you described Bob R. to a tee, “foaming at the mouth and writhing about on the floor while kicking.” 😉 That word “gurry” deserves wider circulation in the English language.

      • You made me chuckle, however I really don’t remember “Bob R.” I’d have to go back and look through all the comments Joe Bastardi generates, and there can be hundreds a day. Some are updates of current conditions, and interesting at the time but less interesting now, but many are merely annoying. I’m not sure where Bob R fit in. He seems a bit “prickly,” (IE: Quick to take offence,) but I’ve known some guys like that that turn out to be decent fellows, once you get to know them.

        My writing can be offencive. When you express yourself you are not watching out for others. Sometimes it can generate a good discussion and greater understanding, but other times it just gets doors slamming.

        I do respect engineers. If Bob R is still lurking, he might be interested to see my WUWT Post: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/08/21/hurricane-warning-mckibben-alert/
        Which I think shows more respect for engineers than for writers.

        I’m glad you were amused and interested. I also like that word “gurry.” I hope to write more about that job. I was such an airhead back then, and the fellows there were good to put up with me and help me get my feet back down to earth.

  2. You are a writer! Very well done. I have often thought that those of whom you speak are among the nastiest, most self-centered persons of my experience. Thank you for this particular blog.

    • Thanks, Anna.

      I think I write to express myself; I do it even if no one reads it, sort of like a boy whistling as he walks down a road. Writing gets something on my heart off my heart. However if another likes my self-expression it is a bonus.

      When a boy is walking down a road expressing himself by whistling, he isn’t really promoting himself or being an egotist. It is a contradiction, yet self-expression involves being self-forgetful.

      The “basement” this work talks about, (perhaps a Mother’s basement or perhaps not,) is a sort of trap we can get ourselves in. I confess and admit I myself get into that dungeon. Rather than getting out we hide. I suppose rather than self-expressive it is self-protective.

      Therefore, when you speak of the “nastiest, most self-centered persons,” you are speaking of me. I agree. When I get into that self-protective state I am at my worst.

      I suppose it serves some purpose, like a wounded dog going under a porch and staying in the darkness to lick its wounds. However at some point the old dog has to come back out into the light.

      One neat thing about the comments on some websites is that, when a person gets into one of those self-centered and nasty rants, they are no longer like a dog under the porch brooding silently. Even as they are self-protective they are self-expressive. At that point they are like an old dog under the porch freeing a howl.

      When others then respond, it is sort of like the owner going under the porch with a flashlight, and saying, “What the heck is wrong with you, you old mutt?”

      It is interesting to see what happens next. Does the old dog accept help? Or does it snap at the hand that feeds?

      This is giving me an idea of a story I could write. So I thank you for responding.

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