Weather. Or not:
I love the weather. Well, maybe not the stuff that causes loss of life and property, but other than that, I love all kinds of weather. Cold, hot, dry. Rain, snow, fog. I like it when the weather is pleasant. I like it when weather is bad. In fact, the worse it gets, the better I like it.
I'm not sure why that is, exactly, but it probably has something to do with nature showing us who's boss. People often fool themselves into thinking they control everything around them. Yet, even the most powerful person on the planet gets wet when they're caught in a sudden downpour. That makes me smile.
In the very early 1900s, local newspapers began placing weather predictions on their front pages. These were brief and general "cloudy and warmer" kinds of things. Before that, forecasts were made by "local experts" and disseminated in a number of now-unfamiliar and seemingly fanciful ways.
Old George (Granddad) Laughlin, who lived his summers on the Conneaut Lake bluff, a few houses south of Shady, told me that during the 1890s, in his childhood town, the next day's weather was signaled by a factory whistle that blew in different patterns. "The only one I can recall," Granddad said, "was my favorite. A long and a short blast. It meant 'fair weather and cooler.'" The story tickled me so that, when I piloted the Barbara J, I always sounded the horn with a long and a short. Especially when I passed by the old boy as he waved from his front porch.
My own dad (born 1915) was pretty good at predicting the weather. He used mostly clouds, wind direction, and the lake's waves to prognosticate. As in: A strong wind from any easterly direction means a least one upcoming day of slow soaking rain, or copious amounts of snow. That, combined with "fleas on a dog" (his name for tiny wavelets on top of bigger waves) are sure signs of two or more days of steady precipitation.
I was interested enough to take a class in weather prediction during my time at Thiel College in Greenville, Pennsylvania. Open wave lows. Occluded fronts. Stationary air masses. To this day, all I need is the direction of the wind, a look at the sky, and a barometer to be nearly as accurate as the forecasters on the TV. I know why (in that part of the country) an east wind means precipitation. But, the "fleas on a dog" thing? That remains a mystery, though I know it's true.
Much of figuring the weather is nothing more simply paying attention. For example: During college, I had a daily commute from Conneaut Lake to Greenville and back. I can tell you, that on any gray day, if it's raining or snowing anywhere along that portion of PA Route 18, it's just to the south of the tiny village of Adamsville. I imagine it has something to do with the interplay between the ridgeline, the wind, and Pymatuning Lake.
Even the relatively small Conneaut Lake creates its own climates. Pre-air-conditioning, the place to be was the water's edge with its cooling breeze. Lots of times, we'd leave the house, hot, sweaty, and ready for a swim only to find ourselves chilled enough by the air to not even bother going in the water. I can't tell you how many times I experienced that dead calm right around sunset as air temperatures over earth and water evened out. Or noticed that slight, cooling "evening draft" as the comparatively warm lake pumped air up and away from its surface, drawing from the darkened, surrounding shore.
Micro-climates abound around Conneaut Lake. My favorite example is at the north end of the Midway Bluff. Before the sidewalk starts, there's a small, flat stretch of shore. On it sits a huge, perfectly-upright tree, a Magnolia acuminate. Its local kin grow short and bushy, but the extended autumn provided by a location so close to the lake's shore has allowed this particular individual to gain the size and stature of cousins hundreds of miles to the south! At the same time, the chill of the (literally) ice-cold spring prevents any more than single, extremely rare flowers and no, to very few fruits on its massive branches.
The Weather Channel began on television in 1982. Within a decade, it was carried on 90% of all cable networks. That, and the Internet, has placed the forecast at our fingertips 24 hours a day. In the developed world, those younger than their late twenties have never wondered about the weather. It's sad to say that many of us older folks have forgotten the guessing games presented in the forecasts of days gone by.
To those of you reading who know weather-lore, please find somebody who's interested and pass on what you know. It doesn't matter if it's turned leaves, fish jumping, postures of pine cones, how the birds swoop, red skies in the morning, rings around the moon, the lack of dew, or even fleas on a dog. Please make sure a youngster knows what you know before you leave this place.
I'm not saying everyone needs the skill of a meteorologist, but it's nice to think future generations will continue to harvest the simple satisfaction of stepping outside and saying "sure smells like rain."
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