I think the poor weathermen may be feeling slighted, with everyone ignoring their warnings due to concerns about the Wu-flu. I’ve got a little weather-radio in my study, and it has an alarm that goes off when the weather office feels the ordinary public should be alerted to some danger. Lately they’ve been setting that alarm off for silly fears, or so it seems to me. For example, if I hear it go off, and feel compelled to drop what I am doing, and to hobble hurriedly into my study, and then only learn that overpasses may be frosty and slippery in the morning, or there may be patches of fog down in the hollows after dark, or that a late freeze may nip delicate indoor plants, if you have left any out on your porch, it hardly seems worth all the hoop-la.
In some ways the people on the other side of that squawking weather-radio remind me of a small child who hasn’t been receiving enough attention, and who therefore prances and dances about disturbing adult conversations. I try to be patient and see they mean well, but at times I get the feeling they must think the general public consists of complete morons. It wouldn’t surprise me if they set off a blaring warning to tell people it was suppertime, and hunger might happen.
I get a bit irked when I’m treated like a moron, especially when I need to do some task that involves risk. Some people just can’t stand risk. Fifty years ago I never would cut down a tree with my grandmother watching, because the anxiety she’d be subjected to would have been cruel. In like manner, I try not to burn brush with town officials watching, because they don’t trust me, even though the only time I burned up a backyard was fifty-five years ago, in 1965, when I was twelve. That experience taught me well, and I’ve been very careful with fire when its windy ever since.
The best time to burn is in the spring, before lush green weeds spring up and before trees create an emerald canopy which casts the shade that keeps the ground damp. Between the spring sun being as high as it is in August, and the dry air coming down from snow-covered lands to the north, (which, when warmed, achieves a parched humidity of Death Valley dryness), conditions are perfect for seeing the “duff” (the top inch or two of dead leaves on a forest floor) dry within hours of a rain. Sometimes I would miss these prime conditions, and might fail to burn, were it not for the fact my weather radio blares out a warning, telling me it’s dreadfully dangerous.
Often the radio alerts me to stuff I already know. I am sixty miles from the sea, but when the moon is full and the wind swings to the east I have a sort of instinct that kicks in, dating from years I spent by the sea, My old bones know the tides will be high, and even though I don’t have a rowboat any more I remember to draw it up farther on the beach, and not to park my car in the low lot by the salt marsh. It is only after these obsolete considerations have gone drifting through the back of my mind that the weather-radio goes off with shrill warnings about high surf and spill-over, sixty miles away.
After a while the weather-radio becomes a bit like the little boy who cried wolf. I tend to ignore the alarm. Or, if I go to listen, it is only because I’m puzzled about what on earth they could be in a frenzy about this time. This eventually puts the meteorological Alarmists in the position of the little boy, when the wolf actually comes.
I do glance over the written forecasts, and therefore I was well aware a front was coming through, likely with thunder, to end the workweek. I planned accordingly, keeping an eye to the sky, and also checking the weather radar on my cellphone. The forecast was a bit too hasty, regarding when the thunder would arrive, and this actually helped me, because I hurried to get things planted before a deluge, and then the deluge was delayed, so I could keep working, and I was done earlier than I would have been if I worked in my ordinary, dawdling, old-man manner. Of course, at my age working fast did hobble me a mite, yet it was nice to go home early and sit with my wife on the screen-porch, watching the skies darken, sipping a beer, and ignoring the silly weather-radio going completely berserk, off in the distance, in my study.
The weather-radio becomes basically useless when actual storms approach, for besides pertinent information they need to legally cover their butts by adding a string of extra advise, such as not to stand by open windows and not to drive into flooded roadways and not to do ten other things. It’s a bit like the tag that warns you not to use your electric toaster in the shower, and is delivered in an animated computer voice, with the emotion never quite right. This robot-voice might be bearable if they went through the inane list only once, but the computer automatically adds the warnings to each specific alert about each storm cell, and when there is a whole line of storms with many separate alerts the redundancy becomes ridiculous.
If I want actual information beyond what I can see with my own eyes I turn to my wife, who is good at multitasking, and even while chatting with me can text on her cellphone with numerous others. I am not as good at multitasking, and can only attend to stretching out my legs and my beer.
It was downright cozy, just sitting on the porch watching the western skies darken and flash, and hearing the first soft purring of distant thunder, when suddenly both my wife’s cellphone and my cellphone let out a piercing whistle, and the screen yelled, “Tornado Warning”.
I sighed. A “warning” is different from a “watch”, for it means an actual tornado has been sighted, but it was obvious the tornado wasn’t nearby. However my wife was texting like crazy, dealing with other women who were also texting like crazy. I used my cellphone to check the radar, looking for what is called a “hook echo” that a tornado tends to be associated with. I took the screenshot I pasted at the start of this post, which shows a typical line of thunderstorms, with what might be “hooks” well to our north, and some big cells approaching but likely passing to our south. (I would not like to be in the shoes of the fellow who has to look at such maps and issue actual warnings.)
By this point my wife had already determined one daughter was in a house with no cellar, and a granddaughter was serving ice-cream from a tiny shed-like stand. She asked if they should run for cover. I shrugged, and said it didn’t look that bad, but that they should listen for sirens. Then I sauntered outside the screen porch to scan the sky.
Now, at this point I suppose you could scold me. One is not suppose to saunter, when a tornado warning has been issued. One is not suppose to go outside, but rather down to the cellar. In fact a nosy neighbor could, I suppose, have tattled on me, but that would have involved confessing they too were looking out their window, rather than rushing to their cellar.
The fact is, I am not very good at panicking. I have spent a good part of my life “in harms way”, in one way or another. Panic has never seemed as wise as “assessing the risk”. Only occasionally have such assessments resulted in the appropriate response being, “Run like hell”.
The approaching flashes of lightning to the west were numerous, but I’ve seen worse. Most meaningful to me was the thunder. It was all the soft, sky-to-sky sort. There wasn’t a single thumping, ground-shaking, sky-to-ground bolt, even off in the distance. To me this is an indication of storms past their prime, and of storm cells with little updraft and on their way to becoming merely downdrafts of thunderless rain. I told my wife I wasn’t all that impressed, and she immediately texted my opinion far and wide. She also was getting other opinions from other old coots from far and wide. The worst we heard of was some hail. There wasn’t even much talk of winds. We saw no need to hurry to the cellar, and settled back onto our cozy porch.
It took about ten minutes for the storm to pass. There was heavy rain, a brief smattering of hail, some vivid lightning more than a mile overhead (counting the time between flashes and rumbles) and surprisingly little wind. Usually a storm gives you at least one blast that makes the trees thrash their branches, and blows the rain in through the screens, but this storm was meek.
So it looks like we failed at storm-panic, the same way we’ve failed at virus-panic. But at least the storm watered my plants. The virus, on the other hand, seems a complete nothing-burger, in these parts.