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Weather or Not

By Scott Roeben

Mark Twain is believed to have said: "Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it." Although the sentiment was attributed to Twain, it was actually first written in an editorial in the Hartford Courant by his friend Charles Warner. Twain never told anyone that, mainly because he was making so much money from the bumper stickers and t-shirts that carried the phrase, but that is neither here nor there.

What is neither here nor there is the weather. Actually, it's somewhere. Up, for the most part.

Human beings get cocky every now and then. Sure, we have the space shuttle to our credit. And computers. And the strapless bra. All wonders of technology. But just when we begin to feel a little full of ourselves, Mother Nature has a way of slapping us briskly on the jowl and reminding us just who holds all the cards. Snowstorms, tornadoes, typhoons. They all serve to bring our true powerlessness into sharp focus. Weather is like a pair of bifocals in that way, except that it is exceedingly difficult to fit a squall into your coat pocket.

Yes, Mother Nature has a variety of tricks up her sleeves. Not literally, of course, due to the fact that Mother Nature is not a real person because if she were, where would she find shoes big enough for her?

After nearly moments of in-depth research (namely, tapping my index finger against my temple), I have compiled a list of my favorite weather conditions.

1) Flash floods. These are sudden, localized, massive rushes of water, often located at maternity wards. Flash floods are different from regular floods. Flash floods are unexpected, whereas most ordinary floods happen on "flood plains," better known as "places where we should certainly continue to rebuild as long as the federal aid holds up."

2) Twisters. Another name for a tornado. It is not true that twisters do most of their damage to trailer parks. A twister cannot distinguish between trailers and other types of homes. Unless it has access to mortgage records, then the difference is glaringly apparent.

3) Aurora borealis. People generally have no idea what this phenomenon is, but no one can deny that it is just plain fun to say. Kind of like the phrase: "The divorce is final."

4) Monsoons. These generally do not happen to anyone you know. Some countries, however, have entire seasons of them. They are very dangerous and can result in a perfectly nice hut being reduced to a pile of mud, although in most cases the layman really won't notice much of a difference. Fortunately, the countries which specialize in monsoons are almost exclusively populated by laymen, with a few dictators thrown in to make things interesting.

5) Frost heave. "The uplift of ground caused by the freezing of moist soil," but who am I kidding, I like it because it sounds as though it should be the punchline of something.

6) Sea puss. Ditto. Could I possibly come up with that one on my own? A "swirling shore undertow," my foot.

7) Smaze. The technical term for a mixture of smoke and haze. Mizzle, "a very fine rain," almost nudged smaze out of the running, incidentally.

8) Cyclones. Not to mention their evil twins, anticyclones. Anticyclones are wind systems that rotate in the opposite direction from cyclones. Anticyclones are like defense attorneys. They are contrary, they stir things up, they disrupt the calmness around them and they consist mainly of hot wind.

9) Hail. It is an age-old blight. In many documented cases, it falls to Earth the size of grapefruit. It's interesting that you never hear it the other way around. "Hell, Milton, that grapefruit sure is the size of hail."

10) Williwaw. A sudden, violent squall of cold wind. Common at near-polar latitudes, or in the presence of women who wouldn't date me in a thousand years (i.e., nearly all of them).

These are just a few. But merely by looking at these examples one realizes just how little we understand about the world around us. And that does not even take into account the question about why some people choose to pluck their eyebrows entirely and draw them in again with eyebrow pencils.

We are only beginning to grasp the complicated and mysterious forces at work in the creation of our wildly varying weather patterns. Weather is the one thing that all the residents of our planet have in common. Whether you weather the dreaded willy-willy (a severe tropical storm in Australia), or experience a ghibli (the hot desert winds of northern Africa), or the zonda (a warm, humid northerly wind of South America) or even the mistral (a northerly wind in southern France), we are all at the whim of forces out of our control. The French, I should mention, are at the whim of inbreeding as opposed to weather, but let's not get off the track, all right?

As human beings (yes, after much deliberation, the French qualify), we all live under the same clouds. Clouds with such exotic names as Cirrus, Cirrostratus, Stratus, Stratocumulus, Nimbus, Leviticus and Spartacus. It is just a matter of time--and for some the infusion of new, more intelligent genetic material--before we realize that our natural world, with its tempests and windstorms, provides us with common ground. A place where we can stop seeing skin color, and religious preference, and political views and whether or not we have so little dignity as to live in a home on wheels as all that important.

Perhaps you will think about that when the next willy-willy hits.


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Scott Roeben, 2000. All rights reserved.