Whether Weather

A while back I read a squib that argued that your average modern American is less in touch with the weather than at any other time in human history.

The case was supported with various examples. Some were quite obvious: the wide availability of artificial heating and cooling; transportation via heated and cooled motor vehicles that seal us from our environment; enclosed shopping malls where a person can not only shop, but also see a movie and eat dinner, without ever stepping outside.

Other examples were more interesting because they were less apparent. Standard attire has changed toward lighter and more streamlined fashions, in part because of new fabrics, but in part – or so this author argued – because no one worries about being too hot or too cold. Equally, seasonal shifts reflect fashion trends rather than a real need to dress for the weather.

(Strangely, temperature control actually leads me to keep a long-sleeved shirt in my car during the summer, because so many businesses cool their interiors beyond my tolerance level. I never have this problem in the winter).

Another example given was enclosed sports stadiums: no more weather delays or discomfort for the fans in the stands. I’m sure there are many others.

Although my house has central heating and a form of artificial cooling (the evaporative or “swamp” cooler), I can’t say I’m out of touch with the weather. For one, I’m a gardener. No matter the time of year, the weather is a matter of acute interest. At this time of year, when I’m setting out young annuals and planting seeds, I’m concerned whether temperatures will be too high or too cool.

Peppers, for example, will sulk if nighttime temperatures are regularly below fifty degrees. Tomatoes set fruit in a relatively narrow temperature range. If it’s either too hot or too cool, no new tomatoes. Also, stressed plants are much more vulnerable to disease and ailments like blossom-end rot.

I also worry about the wind, a phenomenon that those of you who’ve been joining me on Wednesdays this past year or so must have already gathered can be incredibly violent here in New Mexico. Not only can the wind shred my plants and make it unpleasant to be outsides, but high winds also get in the way of my favorite form of exercise – pedaling my bike around the neighborhood.

And then there is rain… Or rather lack of rain. Not only have we had an unusually cool spring, we’ve had a very dry one. A few weeks ago, I mentioned we’d had .06 inches of rain in the last several months. Guess what? The situation hasn’t improved, although there’s hope for the end of this week.

Even in the winter, when most people think gardening is “over,” I watch the weather. Extreme cold can kill perennials. In this dry climate, it’s necessary to water bi-weekly or monthly.

At one point, a staple of futuristic Science Fiction was weather control. A sign of progress was that, if rain had to fall, it could be set to do so at night or during the weekday. No more ruined weekend picnics or frost-killed crops.

The weather-control motif seems to have fallen out of favor, perhaps because the nightly weather reports with their reports on the “Jet Stream” or “El Nino” or “La Nina”  (for those of you who know Spanish, I had tildes over the “n’s” there, but the program didn’t recognize them) currents have made us all more aware how weather events thousands of miles away affect our local weather conditions. Weather for a perfect picnic in Michigan might mean a drought in Oregon.

Are we less aware of the weather because of these technological improvements and information? Or, conversely, because of these things are we more aware of the weather? Is weather no longer something we accept, but something we have been conditioned to believe should be under our control?

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7 Responses to “Whether Weather”

  1. heteromeles Says:

    It depends on who and where. I think a lot of people can choose to live indoor lives.

    At the same time, I can get a radar-based rain map that’s accurate to a few hundred meters, and in fact I used it to figure out whether to go ahead with an outdoor marriage on a rainy day. I was able to get a good enough forecast to determine that the sky would be clear at the time and place of the wedding, and that it could go forward. A few hours before and after, it was pouring buckets on that spot.

    I’d therefore say that people can be more aware of the weather than ever before, but only if they want to. They are no longer compelled to care.

  2. John C Says:

    I’m a person who chose an indoor life, but has been saved.

    One of the greatest joys of my current life is that I can walk to and from work. Even when my morning mile is dominated by thunder and rain storms, I find myself delighted by the contrast it provides to my work life: 8 hours in a windowless room staring at the computer.

    I remember the old engineer-led science fiction of controlling the environment, but now, I’m given the impression that the same sense of wonder is now found in living in, of, and with the world, rather than in dominion over it.

    I’m glad that you seem to be enjoying the latter.

  3. Paul Says:

    I remember a short story in Analog and a Ben Bova novel both about controlling the weather, but Mark Twain’s dictum about it still seems to be right. What with the recent floods and tornadoes and iceberg melting that has been going on, we may be in the process of learning that we can’t even avoid the weather by inside environments when Mother Nature decides to shrug her shoulders about something.

  4. Barbara Joan Says:

    Weather, no one seems satisfied with it. It’s either too hot or too cold to paraphrase an old song. What i find fascinating are the number of people who live in AZ who moved here of their own free will and then complain about the heat. To me that’s just plain weird.

  5. Morton W. Kahl Says:

    Where I live (La Paz, Bolivia) we have but two seasons, rainy & dry. Since mid November it has rained every day for an hour or so, sometimes twice in one day. The dry season is now beginning and we won’t see any rain at all until next November. We have a fairly large cistern in case of water cutoffs and are careful of water use. Gardening however is incredibly rewarding. Loads of beautiful flowers, including Iris, Roses, Tulips and Pansies by the dozens. We also have artichokes, Potatoes, Peaches, Plums, Lemons, Figs and one of the hottest Peppers in the world, Locotos (they make Jalapeno’s taste mild). It’s a fairly large garden, 300 meters square (with a barbecue). Obviously we spend a lot of time there.

  6. Ann M Nalley Says:

    I definitely watch the weather! I prefer to exercise outside (slow jogger!), and my start to my day depends on what’s going on outdoors. I had a very interesting weather related revelation this spring! Due to a pneumonia complication, I exercised indoors this past winter and early spring… and my seasonal allergies have been almost non-existant. By unintentionally avoiding aerobic exercise while the pollen was at its worst, I was able to stay decongested and avoid taking daily allergy medicine and the accompanying sinus infections that usually plague my spring.

  7. janelindskold Says:

    I’m glad to hear so many of you buck the trend and enjoy the outside world.

    Ann –I wish I could avoid my allergies that way, but with New Mexico winds that isn’t am option. I’m sorry to hear about the pneumonia!

    Today is overcast, but I’m not putting much hope into that. Yesterday was positively lowering and all we got was the lightest of light drizzles, not even enough to obliterate the dove prints in the sand

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