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So, How's The Weather?
(From March 30, 2001)

Ever since Noah walked off the ark, the number one small-talk topic of humanity has been the weather. I don't KNOW this, of course, but I see no reason why it shouldn't be so, given that human nature never really changes, and people in those days actually had FEWER other things to talk about.

Of course, I've lived all my life in a place where weather is an ongoing adventure, namely southeastern Wisconsin. We have some weather-related sayings here, such as: "If you don't like the weather, just wait a few minutes - it'll change." Or, "Wisconsin has three seasons: July, August, and winter." That one is an exaggeration, of course. (Well, in most years it is.)

It surely must be boring to live someplace like San Diego, where the weather is almost always good. And believe me, when you're talking weather with a Wisconsinite, 'boring' is an extremely attractive concept. Sometimes the weather here is so interesting we could just scream. Take this past December. PLEASE! (Sorry, couldn't resist.) It was the snowiest in Wisconsin history, at least in our part of the state, and also unusually cold EVEN for Wisconsin. Granted, the rest of the winter wasn't too bad (for Wisconsin, I mean), but when you get nailed that hard early on, it's hard to escape the thought that the whole winter is going to be horrible. It's like living for three months with the sword of Damocles hanging over your head (that's from Greek mythology, for those of you in West Palm Beach).

Actually, I kinda implied in that last paragraph that winter is over, which was probably a mistake. It's a violation of the second of my 'Rules for Happiness': 'Avoid tempting fate'. You see, there's this thing that can happen here in Wisconsin. Sometimes Old Man Winter saves one last surprise for us, just as we start thinking that he's finally gone (and especially if we're foolish enough to TALK about it): the dreaded April Avalanche.

A few years ago there was a particularly notorious example of this. The night before, the local forecasters had assured us that there was nothing to worry about: we would only be on the 'northern fringes' of the storm. Maybe an inch of snow at the most. Well, I got up the next morning (all right, it was LATE morning; I work second shift), and as I made my way to the bathroom, not yet fully awake, I caught a brief glimpse of the outside world through a window. It was a couple of seconds later, when I had entered the bathroom, that the message from my eyes finally arrived in my brain. What followed was like a scene from a sitcom. My eyes suddenly snapped wide open. I turned and dashed to the window, jaw hanging down, and looked out in horror at 10 inches of 'northern fringes'.

I don't really mean to pick on meteorologists (well, not too much). It's a tough job, being a weather forecaster, particularly in Wisconsin. Lake Michigan has a lot of effects on the weather that can make it even harder than usual to predict around here. But somehow, when it comes to snow forecasts, it seems like all the sophisticated meteorological equipment could often be replaced by a custom dartboard.

It goes back quite a while, but I still remember New Year's Eve, 1984. The forecast called for 3-4 inches of snow. I don't think they started realizing that something was amiss until there were 6 inches on the ground in Madison (our state capital, about 100 miles to the west). Before it was over, we had gotten 14 inches of snow, and the meteorologists had another 'Golden OOPS Award' for their collection.

The thing is, though, that winter and spring are my favorites (weather wise) of all the years I can remember. From New Year's Day, 1985, through about February 17, the temperature only got above freezing once - and that was when it hit 33 degrees for about ten minutes one Sunday afternoon. There was more snow, although nothing like the New Year's Eve storm. In other words, for about a month and a half - a relatively short period for Wisconsin - it was genuine, 24-Karat winter, and it provided the perfect contrast for what was to come. On about February 18, the upper air pattern abruptly shifted. Suddenly the temperature jumped into the 40s, and soon there were days in the 50s. There were no more really cold days at all, and no more snow. By the second week of March, all the snow on the ground was gone, except for some remnants of the bigger piles that the snowplows had made plowing the big parking lots. The unusually mild weather continued all the way through spring, and in the last full week of April there were five consecutive days in the mid-80s. It was a time when you could almost literally watch the leaves growing on the trees. By the first of May the trees were pretty much fully leaved, and it both looked and felt like summer already. In terms of weather, it was the one really great spring that I've ever experienced.

And now, as I write this, it's again almost April. Official astronomical spring is already here, and daylight savings time starts Sunday. As I say every year, "When it doesn't get dark until after 7pm, it ain't winter anymore!" Who cares if I'm still scraping frost off my car windows? Doggone it all, IT'S SPRING!! Being the optimistic person that I am, I have high hopes that this April and May will be a replay of 1985! So, let the robins start singing, and the tulips start blooming, and the softballs start flying! I'm totally psyched, and NOTHING can bring me down!

Except hearing a meteorologist say the words, 'northern fringes.'

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