I'm sitting here moping. For the last twenty-four hours we've been under a Winter Weather Warning here in Raleigh and the forecasters were saying that we could see up to six inches of snow. I've not seen much snow in my life, so I woke up this morning more excited than a kid with a cupful of tokens at Chuck E. Cheese's and waited for the rain to change over to the white stuff. 10am...11am...noon...rain. Then around 3 I started seeing flakes but nothing was sticking. Snowed fairly hard for a while but just enough to coat the ground a little. Now it's 7pm and the snow is tapering off. Should turn cold and keep what we did get around for tomorrow but it'll take too much work to build up a snowman, though the writing in the snow that I've been looking forward to doing since yesterday should still be possible. Maybe we'll get lucky and another burst of the white still will come through and put us over the 1" mark, but I doubt it.
Anyway, I can't bear to look out the window anymore so I decided to play around on YouTube and came across this video of writer Silas House reading a tribute to Larry Brown. This took place at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in November. Reminded me that I still have to read A Miracle of Catfish. Honestly, I can't believe how long I've been saying that. Here's the video:
It's been a while since the weather geek in me woke up to a day like today, when the doom and gloom of the cable news network meteorologists was matched by the message coming from the National Weather Service. We're talking a severe weather outbreak, and one that might see the squall lines make entry into my home state. Not that I want any damage anywhere, specifically in my immediate vicinity, but I do love me a good evening of lightning and thunder. Other than the few little burst of snow in late January and February, the weather around Raleigh this winter has been too San Diego for me.
Well, as I'm monitoring the weather, I notice a storm spotter report out of Enterprise, Alabama. Seems there was a tornado spotted at the airport there. Now I don't have kin living within two hours of Enterprise (which is close to Dothan, which is where the statue of the boll weevil happens to reside) but this caught my eye because I once survived a close call with a tornado while working an archeology dig in a field beside the Enterprise airport. It's a rather long story, but a few of my co-workers and I actually rode out the storm in a tiny camper on the edge of this peanut field, scared so shitless that all we could think to do was to pass a pipe of some of south Alabama's finest skunk weed around. If we had to die, we wanted to die high.
Obviously, we made it and once we saw the damage around us, including the tops of the trees shaved off not fifty yards from our survival den of inequity, we decided to no longer pray for severe weather as a means of getting a break from the summer heat of a south Alabama peanut field. Digging up Indian relics was never quite the same.
By the way, for the two or three of you interested in such things, check out the new tool available at weather.com, the online home of the Weather Channel. If you type in your zip code and go to your local page, then scroll down to the radar, you'll see that they've teamed up with Microsoft to offer radar that will zoom down to near street-level. It's a pretty cool tool and moves weather.com from fourth on my list of best weather sites, to tied for third with accuweather. Still hard to beat Weather Underground and the National Weather Service.
I live about halfway between the dots for Raleigh and Durham, which means on this weather warning map, I'm officially brown. My workplace is pink. Brown is a winter weather advisory; pink is a warning. In other words, I'm staying home so that good Yankees like Jimmy Beck won't have to worry with my horrible winter weather driving skills. Besides, my car, which endured about three-hundred miles of pre-deiced roads, needs a break. Stay tuned later this morning for the official kickoff of the SoTShoStoWriMo.
We went to bed last night with the weather folks telling us that we could expect a little wintry mix here in the Raleigh area. Even that had me tossing and turning in bed knowing that the chance of anything frozen coming from the clouds might create just enough chaos that the amateur meteorologist in me might have a fun day of weather spotting. Well, guess what? They were wrong. Instead of a "wintry mix," we're getting a full-on, bonafide snow. Huge flakes falling at a pretty good clip. And it's sticking. I know this is probably ho-hum news for most of you, but remember, I've spent all of my life in one snow-free area of the country or another. Snow is a big deal for me.
I'll have a photo or two as soon as the sun comes up.
The Syntax of Things Weather Center has been put on full alert as Tropical Storm Ernesto slowly makes its northern trek toward Raleigh. So far, Ernesto, known as Ernie in polite circles, has been quite the dud as far as tropical systems are concerned. In fact, he has been so weak that the folks at the Hemingway home in Key West will not even name one of the inbred cats after him, an honor previously bestowed on hurricanes Charley, Ivan, and Frances. Still, because I am a certified weather spotter whose talents have yet to be taken advantage of by the National Weather System, I will monitor the system carefully if for no other reason than the fact that I'm addicted to isobars.
On a somewhat unrelated note, I have a question for all of you. At what point do you give up on a book? I'm always reluctant to put one down after starting it but I do reach points when the book just isn't resonating when I ask myself this question. For instance, I'm reading one now, a book that has been getting a lot of press for various reasons and for the most part has received positive reviews, but I'm finding that it just doesn't do anything for me. It seems the writer is more interested in being clever than telling the damn story. I don't mind cleverness, sometimes even relish it and want it, but for my money (and time) I need the 'writerliness' to eventually become background and the story to emerge from within that framework. This writer is trying to do that but just when I think she's about to go somewhere with the story, I'm once again overwhelmed by the attempts at what seems to be a writer out to prove something. Maybe it's just me. And perhaps I bought into the hype and was expecting something more. And there's even a good chance that this could be a situational thing where if I'd read this novel in a vacuum I might enjoy it. Sadly, though, my time is limited, therefore I need to move on. So why do I feel like I'm leaving a child at the side of the road?
Somewhere under all that red and orange and pink and yellow indicating up to 9 inches of rain, most of it falling in about an eight-hour period, Lord Stanley's Cup awaits its own tropical storm.
Apologies for the lameness of that sentence. Seriously, though, that was a bonafide gullywasher we had today. I think I saw more rain in this one day than I did in most years that I lived in San Diego.
I took this photo of the thermometer on my shaded front porch just a few minutes ago. If you look carefully at the reflection, you'll see endless blue skies and palm trees swaying in a nice Santa Ana wind, perfect conditions to scorch what's left of my sinus passages. Just another February summer day in San Diego. So how's the weather on the East coast?
What in the name of Jim Cantore is going on at the Weather Channel? After twenty-plus years of delivering the weather and not much more (unless you count "Storm Stories," their documentaries about weather-related events), they have decided to invite celebrities to join their meteorologists on set to add a little variety and boost ratings for the network. Up first, comedian Lewis Black. Don't get me wrong, I like Lewis Black, but I'm also a Weather Channel purist. I've been watching since the days of blue screens and John Hope. If I want Lewis Black, I'll watch the Daily Show. When Jon Stewart starts doing Local on the 8s, then we can talk.
If I start hearing rumors of a Weather Channel reality series, I'm gonna start writing letters.
Our little ball of barking neurotic fury, Homer, had never experienced anything like last night. Homer is a Southern California dog, born and raised, with at least four generations of San Diego County breeding coursing through his AKC-registered blood. Just last week, I admired Homer's innate ability to protect himself in the event of an earthquake. When the ground shook with a mild tremor, he abandoned his exposed bed and made a beeline for under the desk. But last night would prove just how SoCal he is.
At around two in the morning, we had one of those most rare of meteorological events for this area: a bonafide thunderstorm. In my seven-plus years living here, I've heard less than a dozen claps of thunder. Last night, however, there was thunder and lightning galore. Needless to say, like a true Southern Californian, Homer had no clue what was going on. A home invasion? Dogs from Outer Space? The return of the Uberdog? All he could do to ward of this mysterious visitation was bark. But not satisfied with simply voicing his dismay, he decided that he would escape to the backyard, stand in the pouring rain with lightning flashing around him, and let the entire neighborhood, if not the whole world, know that something was amiss. In doing so, he became oblivious to the shouts of his father who really didn't want to go out in the weather to retrieve him. But I had no choice. We live next to an old lady on her deathbed on one side and some young children on the other. I feared that cops or landlords would be called or a lightning strike would take him out, leaving us with nothing but a greasy spot and some hair to bury. Doing what any good father would do, I grabbed a mop and chased him upstairs.
Homer doesn't seem right today. Maybe his psyche is bruised, his karma misplaced. Who knows when his next chance to bark at a thunderstorm might be? I guess for now he'll have to settle for the UPS man.
Here's something that William S. Burroughs wrote for Outside magazine in 1995. If only this would work:
Everyman who watches TV sees houses, streets half under water...people in boats...sandbags passed from hand to hand...pigs rescued from roofs...a big rescue sweep in Costa Rica...snakes...deer...an adorable ocelot kitten perched on a branch...dim grainy pictures from China, Bangladesh, Africa...100,000, 200,000...after a certain point casualty figures are meaningless.
To take leave of Everyman, I was brought up in St. Louis, Missouri, where floods are commonplace. They were always extending and reinforcing the levee. I went to Los Alamos Ranch School, where they later made the atom bomb. I remember the rain dance down near Albuquerque. The medicine men in the kiva communing with rattlesnakes, which were released in four directions, and knowledgeable spectators running for their cars to get out past several arroyos before the downpour. The ceremony has a pretty good average. Even the most thick-skinned skeptic doesn't want to be caught with his car bogged down in red clay or his wife he calls Mother drowned in front of him.
Recall someone in the New York Times said, "No one seriously maintains that the antics of shamans could possibly affect the weather."
Well, maybe not if they saw weather magic in action. I have.
Recall a terrible flash flood near Boulder, Colorado. Dam broke and a wall of water 35 feet high swept down this narrow canyon. Washing cars ahead of it like matchboxes. Casualties were in the hundreds. Still digging them out three months later.
I was in Mexico City when raw sewage... the black waters...las aguas negras...flooded out the downtown streets and enterprising peons made a few pesos carrying businessmen across the flooded streets on their backs. Briefcases and all.
Now a very personal flood story -- right here in Lawrence, Kansas. The rain is coming down in sheets like you can't see six feet in front of you. The water is washing waist-deep in my front yard, another five minutes and it will flood out the basement and jam the furnace and the water heater with silt. What a bore.
So there in front of the neighbors I decide to make a reverse rain ceremony, and like all magicians I am figuring the odds. I have seen flash floods before. I know how quick they can come and how quick they can go. (Goddamn mud all over my cellar. I won't stand still for it.)
And now I can feel my POWER coming. Standing there on the porch it comes from the tips of my toes right up and out of my arms stretched over the surging flood and I say: LET THE WATERS RECEDE!
And the waters recede not a minute too soon.
Glub, glub, glub.
The Times-Picayune's James Varney tries to answer a question that I'm sure a lot of people are asking today, "Will New Orleans Survive?" (reprinted in its entirety under the cut because NOLA.com's permalinks aren't working):
Well, that was stressful. I'm still not sure how I managed to get through the day yesterday. Although I don't require a lot of sleep, I do need more than the two hours worth Sunday night which followed the three of Saturday. I should probably thank the folks at Red Bull for the needed energy to make it to the lunch hour, and the cafe around the corner for the espresso to get me through the rest of Monday. At this point (Monday afternoon), I'm having trouble stringing together sentences, so this will be brief.
After following the storm all night and morning, I tore myself away from the TV and computer but carried my xm portable to work where I listened to the live streams from CNN, MSNBC, and Fox. I'm actually glad I couldn't see what was going on. The audio descriptions were frightening enough. I nearly lost it when I heard the reports that downtown Mobile was flooded.
I am happy to report that my family made it through the storm without damage. Mom claims that her stress level has been downgraded to a Category 2. Three times now in the last year they've had to board up the windows. Let's hope it's the last.
Regular content will return soon.
Things could have been much worse. That seems to be the common refrain coming from the Florida panhandle. My mom, on the other hand, had an entirely different take. "Never again," she said on the phone a few hours after the eye moved through her town. I reminded her that this was the same thing she told me in September after Hurricane Ivan uprooted almost every tree in her yard and destroyed or damaged more than half of the homes in Atmore.
"I mean it this time," she cried, literally. "The house was creaking and groaning more than it ever did in Ivan. I'm telling you. This is it for me."
My Sunday was too long, too stressful. It began before five in the morning when the CNN stream on my xm Radio woke me up. Before long, I had both of my computers up and running. On one, I watched the Internet feed from Mobile's WKRG TV. On the other, I opened every meteorological site known to man. Putting on my certified weather spotter hat, I tried to predict the probable landfall and intensity. I smoked too many cigarettes and made the curious dogs nervous as I paced back and forth as if I weren't 2,000 miles away from the Gulf Coast of Florida but in the direct path of a Category 4 hurricane.
After a few hours, I couldn't take it anymore. I stared outside as the marine layer burned away and another typical San Diego day revealed itself. I regretted not buying a plane ticket to be there with my parents. To be honest, the weather fanatic in me wanted to experience this as much the compassionate son wanted to soothe my mom's frazzled nerves. From out here, I had to live vicariously through the Anderson Coopers of the world. I wanted to hold up my own anemometer and feel the furious physical force of a tropical cyclone. I craved that strange mix of fear and exhilaration, the sounds, the smells, the experience. Instead, I drove to Starbucks to get Elaine a no-foam vanilla latte.
However, even away from the house I couldn't get away from it. While getting gas, the little monitor at the pump was showing CNN's hurricane coverage. Talk about your signs. I hurried home and continued my jealous vigil. I watched as the storm wobbled more to the north, then back north-northwest, then north. It weakened some. Then it made landfall just to the east of Pensacola on a little strip of land full of sand dunes and condos.
It would be a few more hours before the eye wall, a menacing curve of red and burgundy on the NOAA radar, made its way to Atmore. At that point, I did become concerned. I hadn't heard from my parents in several hours and couldn't get them to answer the phone. A tornado warning was issued for their county and the big blob of convection seemed to hover there for too long. Finally, mid-afternoon, my dad answered his business line. "It's been a rough one." He described the loss of the rest of the trees in their yard, then I could hear Mom scream, "Another tornado warning. Back in the hall."
Eventually, Mom would call me back. That's when she declared that she was done with riding out hurricanes.
My day was finally over. All that was left was to watch and read the reports of damage coming out of the region. Thankfully, an already decimated Pensacola avoided the brunt of this one. I'm still not sure about Atmore; I'm sure I'll hear more about it in the coming days.
Thus ends my weekend of playing weatherman. I now return you to your normal Syntax of Things programming.
No better news this morning. I just spoke to my parents and they are hunkered down. Even my usually stoic father sounded nervous. He didn't like hearing that this hurricane will be the second strongest to ever hit the northern Gulf Coast, second only to the legendary Camille, which if you've ever been to Biloxi you know that even 36 years later the city still shows signs of that storm's damage. Right now, it looks like an early afternoon landfall around the Florida-Alabama line, almost exactly where Ivan came ashore last September. Ivan has been called a "100-year hurricane." This one could make Ivan seem tame.
Forgive me, but my mind is 2,000 miles away. Another hurricane, Dennis, has its eye on the part of the country that many of my friends and relatives--including my parents--call home. Just over nine months ago, Ivan, a category-three storm, devastated this same area and people there still live under blue-tarped roofs and a general fear that their lives will never be the same. I can hear the fear in my mom's voice when I talk to her. She wants to leave, but doesn't want to go anywhere unless my dad goes with her. But he has to stay, has to take care of his business, and because he's an electrician, he has to be there for people who will need him.
That's why I'm sitting here in front of my computer playing meteorologists. If only I could play God.