The weather outside

I remember the year we moved to North Dakota. I would go down to the cafe in town and have coffee with a few of the ranchers and local businesspeople. The conversation ranged from polite to weather to sports. It was a good way to get a feel for the community and to connect with the issues that were most important to those I served. After several months, or perhaps more than a year, I came home one day and commented to my wife, “No weather around here is typical.” It didn’t seem to matter what occurred, the talk at the coffee shop was that this was “unusual weather for us.” If it was hot, it was unusual. If it was cold, it was unusual. After I started paying attention, I became convinced that it was the way the locals talked about the weather. “It doesn’t normally get this cold and stay cold for a long time.” “Usually our summers are milder than this one.”

I sort of understand that way of thinking, especially this year in South Dakota. The series of spring blizzards we experienced last spring was surprising to me, even after 25 years of living her and a lot of spring blizzards. And the wild swings in weather this fall have surprised me as well. On Saturday, we were unloading firewood in our shirtsleeves and enjoying being outside. On Sunday afternoon, I was trying to scrape the ice off the windshield of my car in a raging snowstorm. By last night, the snow was deep enough that I had to be careful to get the car into the driveway. This morning I’ll be blowing 6 inches of fresh snow out of the driveway.

The forecast calls for temperatures in the 50’s tomorrow.

It isn’t just us. I’ve been reading about the bushfire crisis in Australia. At least three people have died. More than 150 homes have been destroyed and the fires are raging to intensely that officials are warning of catastrophic danger. New South Wales and Queensland have been experiencing hotter and drier weather this spring than typical.

But I also have friends who live in Melbourne. Victoria is facing the coldest spring in more than a decade with the mountains just north of town covered in snow and antarctic cold bringing rain, gusty winds and hail across the state. The cold front crossing the state is bringing thunderstorms and flood watches.

Sydney’s forecast calls for a “hot, dry and dangerous day.” Melbourne’s calls for “chilly weather, strong winds and the possibility of snow in higher elevations.”

It is springtime in Australia.

All of the extremes in weather prompts conversation about climate change, but the science behind climate change is complex. It isn’t as simple as blaming climate change for the extremes in weather currently being experienced. Attributing the cause of a specific event to climate change is probably not accurate. Climate change can, however, be used to predict some general trends and patterns in weather. It is not my area of expertise and there are many who are far more competent than I to comment on the global climate crisis.

In the meantime, I’m thinking that people have always been fascinated by the weather. I’m also thinking that the weather continues to be able to surprise us even with all of the advanced technologies and weather prediction models that we have.

I remember when we used to call a flight service station for weather forecasts before going on a trip in an airplane. The forecasts were fairly general and it was a challenge to get the specific information needed to make a safe decision. These days we have applications on our phones that show the latest doppler radar and illustrate the cloud cover in real time. We have more tools for predicting what the weather will be, and yet we are still capable of being surprised by it.

The shifts from warm to cold to warm that we are experiencing this week have so far been fairly accurately forecast by meteorologists. We knew that the snow was coming when we were enjoying the warm weather on Saturday. And I know that warm weather is coming as I prepare to clear the snow from my driveway this morning. Even an accurate forecast doesn’t keep us from feeling a bit amazed at the weather we are experiencing.

Maybe it is just like the coffee shop in North Dakota four decades ago. There is no such thing as typical weather. All of it is unusual.

There is some evidence that while most of the human-caused pollution that is affecting the global climate has come from places in the northern hemisphere, the most severe effects of climate change are being experienced in the southern hemisphere. Whether or not this will become a continuing trend is uncertain, but what is clear is that we are all connected on this planet. What occurs in one place has effects in another.

What is abundantly clear is that there is always some kind of weather-related disaster going on somewhere in the world. Our access to real-time news means that we are constantly aware of extreme weather events. I’m continually amazed that nursing homes leave television sets tuned to the weather channel. The television might be reporting wildfires in Australia and a cyclone in India, or flooding in the UK, but the residents don’t always process the location of the news that is bing broadcast. They look out the window and see clouds and wonder whether or not the flooding will affect them. They see a reporter standing in high winds and wonder whether or not there is a tornado heading for their location. More than once I’ve suggested that a care facility turn the channel on their television - or just turn it off.

So, if you’re new the Black Hills, welcome, and don’t worry about the snow outside. Our weather isn’t usually like this in November - except when it is.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!