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Weather Almanac for March 1999
POOR KEITH'S ALMANAC
My dear Readers:
As I sit down to write my latest installment, we have just entered Solar Spring, the period of the year when daylight hours in our northern latitudes lengthens most rapidly. I rejoice for I have survived another round of cold, dark winter days, the reign (and rain) of solar winter.
Whether warm Spring weather will be with us soon is still unknown to the super computers at the weather service offices. But out in the fields of North America, the answer my friend is blowing in the...oops, wrong thought. The answer is lying under the sun because "The Shadow knows!" Most particularly, the shadow of that subterranean species Marmota monax, popularly know as the woodchuck or the Groundhog.
Unfortunately, this year I was saddened to hear the news out of Ontario that Wiarton Willie, the white groundhog had died. Had he not meet his earthly demise, Willie would have been plucked from his winter's nap on February 2nd as he had been doing for over a decade. Then, before his loyal fans, the Mayor of Wiarton in the company of Mother Nature would have asked Willie to forecast the likely onset of Spring: that day or six weeks hence.
I thought about this ritual -- a high stress job to be sure -- long and hard this year because I have considered applying as his replacement. I have all the qualifications: I am white (skin is a light brown, but hair is mostly white as was Willie's); I love to sleep long in the winter; I am meteorologically trained, I love to give folks weather news; and I need the work. (I also cast a big, easy to interpret shadow.)
I do have my doubts, however, that I can be awakened from a deep, sound sleep and asked, before millions (live and on TV) for a long-term weather forecast. I remember my late mother-in-law asking me for a forecast one morning just as I had voluntarily emerged from my bed. I could barely tell her who I was, let along come up with a day's weather forecast. So, I just gave her my stock answer: "Fair and Warmer".
Before I explain the roots of that response, I want to give you some background about my skills as a weather sage. I first found the weather interesting because, as a sickly child, I was often under the weather and had a good view of it from below. When I eventually decided to study the weather in more detail, I began to read all I could about weather and forecasting.
In my readings, I had heard that some folks in the rural areas of the United States relied on a weather forecasting beetle Meteorus forecastium. Here is how the beetle did it. When the six-legged prognosticator lay on its back, it would rain that day. If it were upright, with feet firmly on the ground, dry conditions would prevail. I quickly ordered one, special delivery, COD, from Wheather Bugs Inc., P.O. Box 232, Bugtussle, Texas. (I knew it had to be a legitimate concern because that was the worst spell of weather I had ever seen.)
A week later, my M. forecastium beetle arrived. It was housed in a box festooned with clouds and lightning bolts, snowflakes and smiling suns. The instruction paper informed me to wait seven days for the beetle to acclimatize to local conditions before using it to forecast the weather. (Prior to that time, I assume it forecast the weather conditions at Bugtussle.)
To make a short story long, I was a hit at school, in the neighbourhood, and eventually all over the community. Golfers and farmers called to seek my advice and forecast. Women called for counsel on their choice of wearing apparel. And as my popularity grew, so did my self-confidence. Before long I could finally look the young ladies in the eyes and tell whether...I mean weather.
The next summer, a prolonged dry spell descended on our region, accurately forecast by my weather beetle, which I had now named: "Raingo". Although Raingo was the star of my forecast band, his continued forecast of dry weather was beginning to annoy the locals, not that he was wrong, they just desperately wanted rain and cringed at the continued dry forecast.
Then one late-July morning, I looked into the sky box upon awakening as was my custom and saw Raingo lying on his back. I quickly announced the news to the community: "Raingo forecast: Rain to come." The cheers echoes across the village.
But by midnight, not a drip or drop of rain had fallen and nary a cloud even graced the sky. Raingo had been wrong! Most accepted the event, only God was perfect and he had retired from the weather forecasting business after the Noah incident.
The next morning dawned and my consultation with Raingo produced the same forecast. And again a bust. No rain, no drizzle. This routine continued for the next ten days, although we did see a cloud or two on the sixth day near the horizon, mocking us with distant flashes of lightning.
During this time, the community turned decidedly unfriendly and shunned me like the proverbial plague. Kids walked past my door, mocking me with umbrellas. The girls looked the other way when I walked by. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the village folks wagging their fingers at my beetle as I drove by. Even the ducks quacked in angry disdain. What had gone wrong?
I went for a second consultation this day, and when I looked into the sky box, I found the answer. Raingo was not forecasting dry conditions, he was dead. [Since Wiarton Willie died on Groundhog Eve, he did not see his shadow on Groundhog Day, thus technically portending an early Spring. But, like poor Raingo, was his forecast clouded by other events, and, in fact, wrong?]
Had Raingo died of old age (like Willie), or under the stress of the job and much public scrutiny (after all, he did come from a species of rather private beetles), or from a broken-heart after missing that first forecast? I will never know, but with Raingo's death, my forecast band could never drum up the enthusiasm to replace him, not even with his son.
Not long after, I left town to study the deeper mysteries of weather forecasting. Four years later, I found a mentor, a meteorologist who doubled as a tuba player in an oom-pah band, the forerunner of all heavy metal musical groups. Mr Ed counseled me on all things meteorological and after several years or tutorage, honoured me with the last secret of his craft.
His words still thunder in my mind and reign supreme.
"When asked for a forecast, tell them "Fair and Warmer" no matter what. Here is why you must do this. Everyone loves sunny, dry and warm days, and they will all love you if you make them happy. If you are right with the forecast, they will love you even more for your skill. However, if you are wrong....well, you know the consequences of that. But at least they were happy for awhile.
"But, if you were to forecast any unpleasant weather condition -- cold and wet, for example -- you turn them sullen. If you are right in your forecast, they will blame you for causing it and be as angry as if you had given them a wrong forecast. If you are wrong as well, the consequences are even more harsh than if you had been wrong with "Fair and Warmer" because they began angry. And now they focus that anger on you."
"So always make them happy initially. It at least gives you time to get out of town."
I started my new professional life with this prognostication firmly in hand, using it without investigation or calculation of alternatives. And it worked. Not as successful as my weather beetle, but well enough to regain my lost self-confidence. And in the process I moved away from the need to always be right.
I close with one last story. Many years later, I chanced to meet a friend in the local food fair -- somewhere between the Today's Chilies and the Hot Tamales. She asked me what the weather would be like on her wedding day, six weeks hence.
I replied in less than the beat of a beetle's wing (or was it in the beet of a beatle's wing): "Fair and Warmer!" A smile engulfed her face like the full harvest moon brightens the sky, and she joyfully ran to her husband-to-be to tell him the good news.
On the day of the wedding, the weather was cloudy and cool, but a little warmer than a typical February Day. And I am sure for them that night it was "Fair and Warmer" -- maybe even "Great and Very Warm".
So, to the Mayor of Wiarton or the City Supervisor of Prognosticating Mammals, I, Poor Keith, do apply for the job of Groundhog Day forecaster recently vacated by the beloved Willie. I understand living quarters are included as is one day of mandatory "meet the press". I will alter my stock forecast to "Spring has arrived", a similar refrain to "Fair and Warmer". However, I do have one last question: "Do I really have to open my eyes or can I proclaim "Fair and Warmer" or can I say it en siesta?
By the way, when I awoke this past February 2nd , I did not see my shadow but did see my reflection in a puddle of rainwater. Did this mean six more weeks of rain? As of this writing we have had four weeks of heavy rains...and the forecast is for at least three more weeks of same! Oh, we are jealous of Noah here on the Pacific Coast. He had only to contend with 40 days and 40 nights of rain...we have passed the 120 day mark!
Your weather-beaten and water-logged servant,
p. Keith, PbH
Originally published in Living Gently Quarterly,
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