My longest-lasting, and most universal, simple pleasure is following the weather. I love living in a region of weather extremes, a place where converging systems make it hard to predict. I’d be unhappy in San Diego.
I’m a six-days-a-week runner, so the temperature, road conditions and wind speed are important factors in where and when I go and what I wear. I’m not deterred by cold or rain, but don’t like wind, ice or summer humidity. I use a bicycle for in-town transportation, and try to avoid cycling in the rain.
I’m also a vegetable gardener, and weather affects plants in many ways. You have to avoid the first and last frosts of the season, and make sure plants get enough water and sunlight. I’ve learned not to plant tomatoes seedlings in the ground on a sunny day, and to follow nature’s signs to learn when insects will emerge.
I burn wood for heat and get pleasure out of splitting and stacking. The severity of the winter determines how much wood we use, and the imminence of rain means that wood must be covered. Now I’m trying to get a newly cut batch of wood split and stacked before the next snowstorm hits.
In the 1990s, when I was editor of the Amherst Bulletin, I would stop what I was doing at 9 a.m. on every busy production day to take a phone call from Philip Ives, an Amherst College professor who kept weather records for decades. He dictated to me the high and low temperatures, rain- and snowfall for every day of the preceding week, and a brief commentary, and I put it on the same page as the obituaries. I once got a call from a lawyer whose client’s case hinged on the weather on a particular day the previous year, and I was able to look it up.
I think weather forecasts have gotten more accurate, because of computer modeling and satellite imagery. And yet in New England there’s always the chance of a surprise. I like following the computer models of storm tracks four days into the future, and accessing radar on my tablet to keep me dry when the forecast is for “occasional rain.”
Weather didn’t used to be a political issue. But 2014 was the warmest year on record, and the number of catastrophic weather extremes, from Hurricane Sandy to the California drought, is making us pay attention to weather in a new, even existential, way. It seems hard to believe it’s a coincidence that the frequency of these weather events and the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have both increased dramatically in the last 30 years.
Even though accurate forecasts are easily available online, Betsy and I still observe our tradition of turning on the television at 6:40 a.m. and 6:15 p.m. most days to watch meteorologists explain what’s going on. It’s something I’ve done most of my life.
I once knew an old man on Cape Ann who was well known for his “Old Salt’s Weather Forecast.” Whenever he was asked whether it would be nice this Saturday, he would respond, “It depends on who you’re with.”