It Could Have Been Worse

According to the weather app on my phone, it’s 56 degrees outside right now, and the temperature today is supposed to hit 70 degrees.  56 degrees, in itself, is like a tropical heat wave, but . . . 70 degrees!  Sure, it’s supposed to rain during the day, but still . . . 70 degrees!  After the long, dark, dank, cold winter we’ve endured in the Midwest, outdoor temperatures that will actually feel warm seem so wildly improbable they can scarcely be imagined.

I’ve written before about the lousy winter weather, and those of us in the Midwest have been feeling pretty sorry for ourselves about it.  And, in fairness, it has been an exceptionally crappy, frigid, snowy winter, so there has been cause for the muttering.  But I do want to note that, as bad as it has been, it could have been worse.  Much worse.

d2e991b7-2bbf-4062-a886-47c3386c060d-02172019_giant_springs_weather_art-bConsider Great Falls, Montana.

Our friends in Big Sky country have been through one of the coldest, most brutal continuous stretches of weather in recorded American history.  As a slack-jawed article in the Washington Post recently recounted, in many parts of Montana temperatures for the entire month of February averaged — averaged — 27 to 28 degrees below normal .  That’s hard to even conceive, and it is the most extreme, extended variance from normal temperatures seen in the lower 48 states in 50 years.  And March began with temperatures going even lower.

Great Falls, Montana, was in the heart of the bone-chilling zone.  The Post article notes that, in that city:  “The mercury didn’t rise above zero on 11 days and dropped to zero or below on 24 nights. Only the first day of the month topped freezing. Its average February temperature finished 27.5 degrees below normal.”

“The punishing and unrelenting cold continued into March. On March 3, the low temperature tanked to a bone-chilling minus-32 in Great Falls. Combined with a high of minus-8, the day finished a whopping 50 degrees below normal. The city concluded its longest stretch on record below freezing on March 7.”

So sure, our weather sucked this winter — but the frozen souls in Great Falls had it much, much worse.  Imagine a March day where temperatures were 50 degrees below normal, or a nearly two-week stretch where the temperature didn’t rise above zero, even once.

It will make hitting 70 today all the sweeter.

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Arizona Sunset

On my last night in the Southwest, we were treated to a spectacular Arizona sunset. We just don’t get them in Ohio during the winter months.

We came to the Southwest in search of the sun — and we found it, and how. The temperatures have been a bit cooler than normal, but seeing Old Sol everyday makes up for just about anything. I’d recommend the desert in winter to anyone interested in combating the Midwestern gray sky blahs.

Thinking Mainely Positive Thoughts

One way to combat the Midwestern mid-winter gray sky blahs is to consciously think about a better, sunnier, place and time.  It’s even more effective if you really try to lock in specifics about where you’ll be and what it’s like.  My happy mental place of refuge these days envisions a bright, cloudless, pleasantly warm summer day in Maine, sitting on a deck overlooking Stonington Harbor and feeling a slight breeze ruffling by.  Russell’s Christmas presents — he made us a smiling, radiant Mr. Sun and a cool Maine key ring holder — help to keep the mind focused on those ultimate summer days.

February is always a tough month, where it’s impossible not to be sick of winter because it seems like it’s been winter forever.  Rather than despairing of ever becoming truly warm and blessedly free of a drippy nose again, why not indulge in some of the power of positive thinking?  Better days lie ahead, and the current crummy weather is just going to make the eventual sultry summer all the sweeter.

The Winter That Wouldn’t Leave

Last night we received breathless reports of another winter storm “bearing down” on the hapless residents of the Midwest.  I groaned when I heard them.  The winter storms always seem to be presented as evilly “bearing down,” as if they are a malevolent living thing bent on doing us harm and moving intentionally in furtherance of that goal, rather than the random product of atmospheric conditions, ocean currents, the tilt of the Earth’s axis, solar flares, butterfly wings, and other unthinking variables that produce what we know as weather.

Sure enough, this morning, when I woke up and looked out the front door, an inch or so of snow had already fallen and large, heavy snowflakes were pelting down like raindrops and accumulating rapidly.  Sirens sounded in the distance because — of course — the latest winter storm just had to hit Columbus on the front edge of rush hour, when it could cause maximum disruption and havoc and misery for the unfortunate souls commuting to work.

Maybe there really is something to this “bearing down” stuff.  Maybe a Midwestern winter really is a living thing that just wants to hang on, like the unwelcome guest that wouldn’t leave, and make us cold and wet and drippy and put us in an ugly funk for as long as it can.

When another winter storm hits on February 20, you can’t help but think grim, gray thoughts.  You wonder when it will finally end, and we’ll finally — or ever — get to see the blossoms and green shoots of spring.

The Simple Pleasures Of Hooked Handles

I’ve got a black office umbrella, and a black house umbrella, so I’m covered — literally — whether it’s raining when I’m leaving the office and heading for home or when I’m leaving home and heading for the office.  For my little system to work, though, I have to remember to take the umbrella back to its “home,” rain or shine.

gold-umbrella-handle-flatThat means it’s not unusual for me to be walking one way or the other with a closed-up and snapped shut umbrella that isn’t being used to shield me from the rain.  And that means that, on those brief journeys, I get to enjoy some “hook time,” where I can use the umbrella’s hooked handle to twirl the umbrella windmill style, trying to do so a la Gene Kelly in Singin’ In The Rain, or carry it on my forearm, like a proper British gentleman, or use it as a cane and tap the sidewalk as I go along.  The hook is crucial to such maneuvers and my innocent fun, and I got to wondering:  when and why did umbrellas start to be manufactured with hooked handles?

According to The Gentleman’s Gazette, the hooked handle was added to the umbrella design in the 17th century.  That website explains:  “The curvature of the handle was intended to allow a servant to easily hold the umbrella at an angle to shield their employer. Although we primarily use this handle today as a method of hanging the umbrella from the arm, it still maintains its original practicality for doormen style umbrellas used by valets and doormen throughout much of the world. In fact, even in American cities like New York, it’s widely considered inappropriate for a doorman not to be prepared with a large canopy for those entering or exiting the premises.”

I’m not sure whether the servant explanation is historically accurate, but it’s certainly plausible, as anybody who has had to position their umbrella at an angle to brace it against the wind on a gusty day can attest.  It’s a lot more comfortable to do so with a hooked handle than a straight handle, because the hooked handle really allows you to get a firm grip.  But if the hooked handle was invented for that utilitarian purpose, it’s certainly provided other important benefits that perhaps weren’t fully appreciated in those pre-Singin’ In The Rain days.

Beggars can’t be choosers, and if I’m caught somewhere during an unexpected rainstorm I’ll use any umbrella to keep the rain off.  But if I’ve got a choice, give me an umbrella with a hook.

In The Rhinorrhea Zone

This winter I’ve been experiencing rhinorrhea pretty much on a daily basis.  In fact, I’m hit by a bout of rhinorrhea whenever I go outside for a walk on a cold day.

img_8058No surprise there — rhinorrhea is the high-falutin’ medical term for a runny nose, from the Greek word for nose.  (That’s why plastic surgery on the nose is called rhinoplasty, incidentally, and it’s got nothing to do with comparing the size of the schnoz being operated on to the horn of rhinoceros.)   My daily dose of rhinorrhea therefore isn’t a cause for alarm, it’s just an annoyance.

I begin my walk in the bracing cold, take some deep breaths of the crisp, clear air, and about halfway into my stroll my nose has turned into a roaring mucus machine and I’m leaking fluid like a sieve, leaving me to either sniffle it back down or remove the glove for a quick wipe-off with a tissue.  But it’s just a temporary fix, because inevitably the sputum production ramps up again for however long I’m outside, making the Kleenex box my first stop after I get home.

Why do our noses run during the winter, even if we don’t have a cold?  The medical websites will tell you that it’s just our noses working overtime at doing their jobs of warming and humidifying the cold, dry air we’re breathing.  The nasal membranes produce more mucus and fluid in the winter to protect our delicate lung tissues from the frigid air onslaught.

So congratulations!  That irksome runny nose means you’re perfectly fine and your body and its defense mechanisms are working as millennia of evolution intended.  Just be sure to keep an endless supply of nasal tissue on hand for the winter, because you’re going to need it.