Too Cold Too Soon

Yesterday I walked to and from the office with temperatures in the 20s and a sharp, cutting wind reddening my face and sending my suddenly flimsy raincoat flapping around my legs.

This morning I woke up and, as I stood in our warm kitchen sipping a blessedly hot cup of coffee, I heard rain on the roof.  I looked out into the backyard in the pre-dawn darkness and saw the glittering evidence of the Queen Mother of Crappy Weather on every plant, tree, shrub, and fencepost.  Yes, that’s right — a dreaded onslaught of freezing rain has coated every object in ice.  Freezing rain, for those lucky people who’ve never experienced it, means that it’s not quite cold enough for precipitation to fall as snow, but just cold enough for the rain to turn to ice once it hits the ground.  It’s the worst winter weather of all because it’s cold, and wet, and frozen all at once, and it means the commute this morning will be slick and treacherous for drivers and pedestrians alike.  There’s a breeze, too, and the weather page helpfully reports that it feels like 22 degrees out there.

It’s the kind of weather that makes February in Columbus inarguably the worst weather month of the year.  But, it’s only November 15.  Hey, Mother Nature!  What gives?

We’ve once again experienced an abrupt mash-up of the seasons here in the Midwest.  True fall weather has been fleeting, and it seems like we’ve moved directly and too quickly into winter.  For those people, like me, who think autumn is the best season of the year — well, we feel cheated.  We know Old Man Winter is going to arrive sooner or later, but can’t he at least wait until after we’ve had our Thanksgiving dinner before he hits us with freezing rain and another round of “wintry mix”?

If you’re in the Midwest, brace yourself, because it’s too cold too soon . . . again.

 

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Dreaming Of A White . . . Spring?

It’s very Christmas-like in Pittsburgh this morning, with snow-covered treetops and landscape, and still more snow falling. Too bad it’s March 21, and officially the start of spring, rather than December 25!

Every time we think we’ve finally turned the corner on this crummy winter, another storm and cold snap gives us a wallop. The Stark Clan with their annoying “Winter Is Coming” saying would love the American Midwest this year. Of course, if they showed up here in their fancy fur-trimmed duds and used that phrase, they’d probably get slugged in the jaw.

Enough, already! It’s time for Mother Earth to start tilting on her axis in earnest and give us some relief from this Winter That Just Won’t End.

Heartland View

Flying out of Columbus today on a clear, cold day, looking at the familiar grid pattern of the farmland below, I was reminded of an enlightening conversation I actually had on a flight some years ago. The well-dressed, older woman sitting next to me, who apparently hailed from one of the coasts, was looking doubtfully at the countryside below and finally asked: “What is going on down there?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Why are those squares and rectangles on the ground?” she asked.

“Those are farms,” I explained.

“Oh,” she replied.

I know they call our neck of the woods “flyover country,” but don’t the folks on the coasts at least know what they are flying over?

Beachless Winter

Over the past few years, we’ve gotten into the habit of trying to put a little beach into our Midwestern winters.  At least once during the cold months, we’ve gone somewhere that allows us to puts toes in the sand, drink a pina colada or two, listen to some steel drum music, and mostly revel in baking heat and glorious sunshine.

hammock between palm trees on untouched beach in the CaribbeanAnd we’ve done a good job of picking the weeks we’ve gone, too.  One year we missed a crushing ice storm that knocked out power to many homes and left people scrambling for alternative lodging in local hotels until power could be restored.  Another year we missed a freakish spate of ultra cold weather.  In both cases, when we returned from our trips, happy and rested and relaxed, and learned about the crappy weather we’d missed, we felt especially grateful for our beach sojourns and shared a secret smile about it even as we listened sympathetically to our neighbors and friends telling us how bad things had been.

This year, though, we decided not to go with the beach trip.  That was a mistake.   A terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad mistake.

As a result, we’ve been exposed to unrelenting months of cold, bleak weather in every form the creative Mother Nature can devise — snow, frigid temperatures for weeks at a time, freezing rain, and blustery, driving showers with temperatures in the 40s.  The last bit of weather might be the worst of all, leaving you feeling raw and red-faced.  Who really likes windy, rainy days in the 40s?  And, because it’s the Midwest, almost all of these forms of weather were delivered with the accompaniment of gray, overcast skies that feel like a funeral shroud has been tossed over the world.

With each passing year, having even brief exposure to bright sunshine, blue skies, and blue water seems more and more important, just to break up the winter months into two manageable chunks and give us some warm weather to eagerly anticipate.  It’s nice to know that we’re now in March, and the nice spring weather is just around the corner, but Kish and I have vowed that we’ve learned our lesson:  next winter, we’re going to hit the beach again.  No excuses.

Umbrella Jousting

We’ve had rainy, blustery weather in the Columbus the past few days.  It’s been unpleasant, but it gives all of us Midwestern walkers a chance to demonstrate a little appreciated, but essential, life skill:  umbrella jousting.

0002ced9_mediumAt least, that’s what I call it.  It comes into play on rainy, windy days when you’re trying to use an umbrella.  Unless you position your umbrella very carefully, an unexpected blast of wind will turn your umbrella inside out and pull the canopy off the umbrella ribs, leaving the fabric flapping in the wind, the ribs exposed in unseemly fashion, and the walker completely unprotected from the elements.  It’s not an easy thing to master, and it takes some practice.  That’s why it’s not uncommon to see umbrellas ruined by Mother Nature sticking forlornly out of trash cans on downtown streets.  Until you acquire the knack of umbrella jousting, you’re likely to lose a few Totes.

The only way to prevent unwanted umbrella shredding is to position the umbrella precisely against the maximum amount of wind pressure, brace yourself, and lean into the point of the wind as you walk forward.  You’re like a knight using his lance in a medieval joust, or a fencer using his foil.  Either way, it’s you against the wind.  And it’s not just a matter of brute force, either.  Because the wind is an unpredictable, devilish adversary, you have to be able to sense the shifts in the wind direction and promptly reposition your umbrella at the first movement, or risk disaster.

Veteran Midwesterners become remarkably adept at umbrella jousting.  It’s one of the skills that distinguish us from the desert dwellers.  I’m proud to say that I’ve had some umbrellas that I’ve navigated through the wind currents for more than 20 years.

In Praise Of Bingeing Technology

You can argue about the value of some technological advancements that we have seen in our lifetimes.  Is the invention of Roomba vacuuming robots, for example, really a good thing?  However, the significance of one development is indisputable:

The ability to engage in TV and movie binge-watching during the cold Midwestern winter months is one of the greatest leaps forward for the human species since the ancient Egyptians developed papyrus.

tmp_uirc5w_4f3814e036213fed_harry_potter_photoConsider this week in Columbus, Ohio.  It has been so absurdly cold, with ambient temperatures hovering, with leaden immobility, in the single digits and wind chill factors below zero, that there is absolutely no incentive to go outside voluntarily.  Unless you’ve got to go to work or to an appointment, there is no rational reason whatsoever to venture into the frigidity.  So, you’re stuck inside.  What to do?  Well, you could read a book, of course . . . or, you could be intellectually lazy and binge-watch TV, thanks to options like Netflix and Amazon TV and cable channels that offer premium options.  The last few days Kish and I have curled up on the couch at nights and begun watching the entire Harry Potter movie series — thanks, HBO and AT&T Uverse! — and it’s been a lot of fun.

You don’t have to watch the Harry Potter movies, of course — you could watch The Wire, or Deadwood, or Lost from start to finish, or a whole season of 24, or the John Wayne westerns in sequence, or the Thin Man films from beginning to end, or every movie in the Shirley Temple collection.  With the amount of new content being produced these days, and the amount of old TV shows and movies that remain available for casual viewing, your binge-watching options are virtually infinite.  And whatever you choose, you’re going to be entertained . . . and out of the cold.

I’m not suggesting that binge-watching TV is something that people should do constantly, week-in and week-out — but when the cold fronts plant themselves in your neighborhood and going outside becomes a bleak, frigid experience, binge-watching is a wonderful option to have.  As I said, it’s right up there with papyrus.

Negative Positives

Midwest America is viewed by many as pretty boring territory.  Flyover country.  Farmland.  Flat as a pancake, without soaring mountains, beautiful beaches, or other natural scenic wonders.

hurricane-irma-puerto-rico-01-rtr-jc-170906_4x3_992But boy!  Reading this morning about a killer storm like Hurricane Irma, which has left the Caribbean battered and Floridians panicked as it bears down on places like Naples and Tampa, from the quiet comfort of my kitchen here in Columbus, makes me reflect on what we don’t get here in the Midwest — like hurricanes.  Or tsunamis.  Or deadly earthquakes that stretch the Richter scale.  Or raging wildfires sweeping across dried-out hillsides, avalanches, and colossal mudslides.  Here in America’s heartland we get a bad thunderstorm now and then, a river might flood here and there, and tornadoes are always a risk, but when it comes to bad weather and natural disasters that’s about it.  We’re shielded from the worst by hundreds of miles of non-coastal buffer zone and natural topography.

It all depends on how you look at the risk-reward calculus, I suppose.  We might not get the stirring vistas — unless, like me, you think that well-tended rolling farms and barns have their own special appeal — but the angry weather and natural disasters that we don’t get here are definitely a positive when the killer storms come calling.

Our thoughts are with the folks down in Florida and the south, many of whom are transplanted Midwesterners, as they ride out the storm.  Here’s hoping that everyone was able to get out of harm’s way.