Weather (App) Envy

In Subterranean Homesick Blues, Bob Dylan wrote:  “You don’t need a weatherman to tell you which way the wind blows.”

65a72fb0c878e2aa7a8bf93b385b6a9aIf The Voice of His Generation were writing that song in today’s smartphone era, he would have said you don’t need a weather app, either.  You can always stick your hand out the window to see if its raining, or open the door and receive an arctic blast to assess just how freaking cold it is.  And if you live in Columbus, Ohio in the winter months, you don’t really need to check the weather at all — you can just presume that it’s in the 30s, totally overcast, and drizzling a “wintry mix,” and you’ll be right more than 90 percent of the time.

I’m convinced that the real use of weather apps isn’t checking the weather or getting the forecast for your present location.  If that were the case, the apps would just trigger a GPS function, determine where you are, and then tell you the weather . . . but that’s not how they work.  Instead, you can input lots of different locations.  And therein lies the true purpose of weather apps.  They’re not an electronic Wally Kinnan the Weather Man, they’re designed to allow you to provoke your sense of weather envy and then adjust your reaction to the weather in your area by comparing it to other locations.

Check your phone’s weather app, and see how many locations are currently shown on it.  My app has about eight, so if I go to the app home page I immediately get a smorgasbord of different weather realities.  I can see that it’s a lot warmer in Florida, Texas and Arizona, and if I really want to torture myself I can click on one of the locations and get appalling details about just how bright and sunny and warm it is in comparison to damp, cold, gray Columbus.  And then I’ll inevitably go in the opposite direction and see just how cold it is up in Stonington, with maybe a brisk wind blowing in off the bay and some leaden, snow-laden fog to chill the bones even more, which helps to get me back to a state of reluctant Columbus weather acceptance.  And once I’ve achieved an acceptable weather equilibrium, I’m ready to bundle up and face the music.

It works in the opposite direction in the summer, of course.  If it’s hot and sticky and miserable here, it’s always going to be hotter and even more miserable in Florida or Texas — while in Stonington the weather is a delightful 76 degrees with lots of sunshine.

The real purpose of weather apps is to tell you that the weather is always better somewhere else.

Looking Colder Than It Feels

St. Mary Catholic Church in German Village installed a new “Peace Garden” area along Third Street when it underwent renovation work recently.  Among the items in the Peace Garden is a statue of a seated lady waiting patiently on a bench.  According to the plaque at her feet, it’s a representation of Mrs. Plank, who I suspect was a faithful member of the congregation.

I pass St. Mary every morning on my walk, and I really like the Peace Garden and the statue — except on winter days when it snows.  Because when it snows, as it has for the past few days, the placid Mrs. Plank becomes utterly snow-covered, and seeing her in that condition always makes the snowy day feel a few degrees colder.  Brrrr!  I want to help Mrs. Plank up so she could shed that blanket of snow, brush off her snowbound pillbox hat, and go someplace warm.  Heck, I’d even spring for a cup of coffee at the Starbuck’s next door.

Hitting The Double Nickel

There’s a reason the nuns in The Sound Of Music sang that Maria was “unpredictable as weather.” The only thing predictable about Midwestern winters is that they are gray, wet, and cold — but the precise combination of those qualities varies.

Every once in a while, however, the fates align and a flukey day happens — like today. Sunny, and a high of 55? It’s a day to sit outside and bank some of that warmth and sunshine before tomorrow’s gray chill closes in.

Indoor Day

Today will be a quintessential indoor day. It’s 33 degrees outside, freezing rain has coated the steps and trees and bushes in the backyard, like the one shown above, in a coat of wet, dripping ice, and a hard rain is still pelting down under flat gray skies — and is supposed to continue all day. It’s the kind of day when walking on frozen brick is especially treacherous, when an umbrella will quickly become heavy with ice, and you’re likely to find yourself taking an unwelcome pratfall that leaves you bruised and soaked.

So why risk the elements? Why not accept nature’s wintry verdict, do a few chores inside, and find a good book to read or a TV show to binge watch? Sometimes surviving the bleakness of winter requires acceptance — and savvy avoidance.

Springtime In January

As I write this it’s 67 degrees outside — in Columbus, Ohio, on January 11 — and the weather app says we’ll hit a high of 69. The photo above aptly captures my reaction to this development.

Alas, it’s temporary. The temperature is supposed to plunge down to the 30s overnight, and then we’ll be back to winter again. Enjoy the fluky weather while it lasts!

Seattle’s Darkest Day

Last Friday was a pretty dark day for Seattle.  Literally.

seattle-1In 1996, the University of Washington installed three pyranometers on the roof of one of its facilities in Seattle.  The pyranometers measure the amount of solar radiation (also known as sunshine) that reaches the surface of the earth.  On Friday, the devices registered an output of only a measly 0.37 megajoules of solar radiation per square meter — the lowest recorded daily measurement for the devices since the date of their installation.  The culprits for the dismal results — literally — were the very short day caused by the approaching winter solstice, heavy cloud cover, and heavy rain, too.

I can sympathize with the Seattle residents who cursed the infernal darkness last Friday.  I’m not sure whether we’ve got any pyranometers measuring the solar radiation in Columbus, but if there are, they’d be measuring pitiful amounts these days.  In the Midwest, our winters tend to be pretty gloomy affairs, too.  It’s not that we get a lot of snow — typically, we don’t.  Instead, it’s the unrelenting damp, heavy grayness that makes you feel like you’re living and working under a wet woolen blanket.  When the sun actually shines, all too briefly, it’s a cause for riotous celebration.

There’s a reason so many Midwesterners are snowbirds who head south for the winter.  Sure, they’re searching for warmth, but they’re also on a quest for much-needed sunshine.  Their internal pyranometers are telling them that they need to up their personal exposure to those bright, happy megajoules.

Thin-Blooded Again

By the end of last winter, I was a hardened Winter Warrior.  With my hat and coat and scarf and gloves and my flinty exterior, I could walk through sub-zero temperatures and polar breezes without flinching.  In fact, I found the chill bracing.

blood-circulation-signsNow, an all-too-brief spring and summer and autumn later, I find that I’m once again a candy ass who shivers when walking out into temperatures in the teens and feels like all color has been blanched from my face by a brisk wind.  It’s kind of embarrassing.

My grandmother would say that I’ve become thin-blooded.  It’s what she said about people who complained about the cold temperatures and snow and weren’t ready to brave the Midwestern winters.

Of course, blood is blood.  Any scientist would tell you that it doesn’t become thicker during the harsh winter and thinner when the thermometer hits the 70s and 80s.  But I always think of the thin blood concept when the first arctic blast hits the Midwest.  It’s time to get out in the frosty air and thicken that blood up to prepare for the winter to come.

Snow, No!

Well, the dreaded cold front has hit Columbus, dumping snow and knocking temperatures down to the low 20s. The snow left a weird pattern on our back patio, like it was trying to inscribe satanic symbols or ancient runes on the flagstone.

I’m not ready for this. November 12 is just way too early for snow-covered ground and the mercury hovering around 20. A few drifting snowflakes to remind us that winter is on its way would have been okay — but not a hard freeze, enough accumulation to wreak havoc with the morning rush hour, and the need to haul out the winter overcoat already.

Where Would We Be Without Willis?

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As we deal with another day of sweltering heat in the Midwest, let’s all acknowledge the huge debt we owe to Willis Carrier — the guy who invented air conditioning.  Where would we be without Willis and his life-changing invention?

Interestingly, Willis Carrier did not invent air conditioning to increase human comfort on scorching summer days.  Instead, he came up with his invention, in 1902, to try to deal with the problems heat and humidity were causing for a Brooklyn printing business.  It was so hot and humid during the summer months in the printing plant that the ink would not adhere to the paper, so Willis came up with the idea of moving air over cooled coils to lower the temperature and the humidity so the printers could function.  The decreased temperature in the no-doubt sweltering area near the printing presses was just a pleasant by-product of the invention.

Willis’ invention caught on and air conditioning was implemented in many businesses, but it would be decades before air conditioning became common in American homes.   The first two houses I remember living in didn’t have central air conditioning.  But now, 117 years after Willis Carrier was touched by a stroke of genius, central air conditioning is commonplace, and it’s really hard to imagine life without it.

Thank you, Willis Carrier!

Dog Days Afternoon

Russell ‘s dog Betty is visiting for a few days. I took her for a walk this morning, and since then she hasn’t been straining at the leash to go outside into the dog days of summer. Staying inside on the cool floor with a bone is the preferred alternative.

Imagine being outside with a fur coat in this weather! Betty is one smart pooch.

Beat The Heat?

The Columbus area is bracing for absurd heat today.  The temperature is supposed to reach the mid-90s, and the “heat index” (which is kind of the opposite of the wind chill factor, and looks at temperature and dew point, to assess overall mugginess) is supposed to hit 105 degrees.  That’s hot enough that the National Weather Service has issued an extreme heat advisory, and some businesses, like my nephew’s pizza kitchen, are adjusting their schedules and practices to try to avoid exposing workers to dangerous heat levels.

1280x720_50116b00-xayzgIn short, we’ll be reaching the thermometer point at which, traditionally, your air conditioning goes on the fritz.

Is there a way to beat the heat in the beachless Midwest?  Not really.  The National Weather Service heat advisory recommends wearing lightweight and loose fitting clothing (no duh!), drinking plenty of water, spending more time in air conditioned or well-ventilated places, and avoiding doing much outside except in the early morning or late evening.  So you can stay inside, drinking cool beverages, crank up their air conditioning, and watch movies — but that’s really just avoiding the heat, not beating it.

Or you can follow the post-enlightenment advice of the Bill Murray character in Groundhog Day and go outside and embrace the heat.  Recognize that summers in the Midwest are often crushingly hot and that’s just part of the deal.  Walk around in air so scalding and moist that it feels like steam.  Note that the squirrels and birds aren’t exactly doing industrious things.  And sweat until even that lightweight and loose clothing that the National Weather Service recommended is soaked through, weighs a ton, and is clinging ferociously to every damp, broiling inch of your skin.

And then, when you realize that you are behaving like an idiot, come back inside, drink a cold glass of water, and hope for all that’s holy that your air conditioning doesn’t go on the fritz like it did last summer.

When The Fog Rolls In

We’re fog-bound this morning. The thick fog crept in like a living thing, blanketing the harbor, oozing up the hillside, and invading every nook and cranny to the point where even our neighbor’s house was rendered distant and indistinct through the foggy wisps.

I like the fog because it’s a tangible reminder that we’re in a seaside community. I also like the cool spritz on the skin that the fog brings. But I can understand why the lobstermen hate it. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be out on the water with this grey haze shrouding the normal landmarks, without knowing what rocky outcropping or boat might be lurking nearby. It’s one reason why lobstering is a dangerous, tough business.