Allow me to take a personal look back at Autumns and weather in this month's Almanac. It is a special time for me in these days between the writing of this piece and its posting. In late August, I turn 60, meaning that for over half a century now, weather has been a major interest in my life, second only to baseball. I have often said that the Autumn, or Fall depending on your preference, was one of my favorite seasons, along with Summer, Spring and Winter. It depends on my mood whether Autumn or Summer is my ultimate favorite, but, as I wrote in Life's Seasons: Autumn To Fall, "The Autumn can have so many different meanings."
In the first third or so of my life, it meant back to school; now it is the time for my grandsons to go back to school. For a score of years, it meant hay-fever season would soon be over; now here in the Canadian Rockies, I waste not a sneeze at those noxious pollens. But for all of those years, Autumn has meant a wide variety of fascinating weather events, both where I lived and around the globe. It keeps a weather watcher busy and most happy.
As I write, we had our first taste of autumn weather this week, a frosty morning that warmed into a lovely day. It is that unnamed phenomenon that I am sure many around the North American continent experience but cannot put our fingers on. Like January Thaw, Dogwood Winter (or some other descriptor), and Indian Summer, it has the markings of a singularity in that it occurs, to my mind (having done no real statistical study of it), regularly in the period from early-August to the end of the month. Like January Thaw, it is a harbinger of what is to come, compared to Dogwood Winter and Indian Summer which are backward steps in the march of the season.
The event is often subtle, manifesting over a day or two with sensual hints of the coming change of season: a smell in the air, the touch of a cool, dry breeze, a different shade of sky blue. This autumnal hint arrives behind a cold front where the warm, humid air of summer has been replaced by cool and dry airs. Within the post-frontal air, I find something special, an embryonic precursor that reminds me of the approaching change of season. These vapours have a freshness that, were it a wine, would bring a smile to the taster's face.
Its impact is subtle yet so recognizable that when I encounter the situation each year, I know immediately. "Mmm, Fall is in the air....Summer is waning." The bittersweet realization pops into my head spontaneously. "I know no need to analyze."
Exactly what properties or combinations elicit the trigger, I do not know. Cool is definitely in the mix...and dry. Is it, therefore, a crossing of a cool-dry threshold combination for the first time since spring? I once thought that some minute concentration of chemical in the air, a seasonal pheromone, might be involved. The compound perhaps arises from some biological process unique to this time of year and is carried to me on the breeze.
However, I have had the same reactions here in my two Augusts in the Rockies, and during my years on Vancouver Island and in the Great Lakes basin Illinois, Michigan and Ontario. If it is a biological fragrance on the wind, it is fairly common across the continent. The atmospheric message comes each year and comes but once. Perhaps, it is a uniqueness to the entity that is Me, a mix of biology and experience. But, I often do wonder if it is a deep-seeded trigger tied to some dormant gene that once alerted an evolutionary ancestor to migrate or begin preparing for winter scarcity.
That crispness, freshness and coolness of autumn with a touch of summer warmth comprise its greatest appeal to me. The same factors make Indian Summer so appealing, and the weather of Indian Summer is the weather of early Autumn, making its encore after the first hard freeze. Under clear skies, the sun adds its warmth to the memory warmth of the earth giving pleasant and often hot daytime temperatures. When the sun has set and that heat escapes, cool nights provide ideal conditions for sleeping.
During such nights, the watering can of Diana Dew or the light brush of Jack Frost, can turn the surroundings to sheer beauty, particularly when combined with the vibrant warm colors of autumnal foliage. As I scan the walls in my home, I note that autumnal scenes dominate my paintings including my favorite two.
Since I was born on the threshold of climatological autumn, you might think I prefer the milder temperatures that this season brings, but I prepared to enter the world during the hottest JulyAugust combination in Chicago history, a mark that still holds. So I am a lover of heat. The day of my birth brought severe thunderstorms to the Windy City, I am, therefore, also a lover of thunder and lightning, and heavy rain. The daily weather maps for my birthday and the following day (I was born closer to the time of the map for the 30th) show a stationary front (that had dropped down as a cold front the previous day) south of the city as the 29th began and then returned north as a warm front during the day. So the weather surrounding my birth was changeable. Perhaps these environmental conditions affected me and set my future, a meteorological alternative to the astrologers belief in the positioning of stars.
Weather has often played an important role in my life story, beyond making it my profession. Because of a tornado, I met the gal that would become my wife. Our wedding and the birth of both children were accompanied by rainfalls. Two hurricanes (and one super-typhoon) have shared my first name, the second of which retired the name. Katrina struck the US coast on my birthday, and though I was half a continent away, affected me deeply. The Quebec and New England Ice Storm ushered in this website, a premature birth because of its magnitude. I trudged through Great Lakes blizzards to work and watched in comfort as the Great Blizzard of ‘96, shut down Victoria, BC. I have faced thunderstorms in a small tent and watched them approach from the comfort of my bedroom window. I have watched the fiery sunsets and many a sunrise, seen rainbows and halos and mirages, and even noctilucent clouds.
In any case, I have been fascinated by weather, in all its forms and extremes, for as long as I can remember. I love the way weather can excite all my sense, including those beyond the traditional five. I love the experience and the anticipation of weather. I have a healthy respect for the powers of wind and rain and lightning. But most of all I love the change of weather. Not sure I would do well in a tropical climate where one forecast can fit most days.
So now that I have reached middle age, I look forward to many more years of weather in all its guises. And I plan to continue sharing my thoughts and interests with you well into the Weather Doctor's second decade.
Weather Maps courtesy NOAA Central Library Data Imaging Project.
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