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light comes up over the mountains
and it is and it is and it is
Some of you might remember when you could pick up your analog telephone, the one with the curly cord, and dial 555-1212to get the time and temperature. I dialed that number ALL. THE. TIME. I needed to know about the weather!
Now of course we have all the weather apps. I jettisoned the phone-based one right away and opted for the KPAX weather app which has a fantastic radar projection and a solid forecast but which became glitchy for me some time ago. I also tried out the WTForecast which provides obscene commentary, always enjoyable. Wunderground paired with the NWS website bookmarked to my phone are my current choices. I love the NWS website because it has “forecast discussion,” which provides the nerdiest and most wonderful reading, especially during extreme weather events! Two of my favorites, from the wacky windy cold snap we had in February:
FLASH FREEZE…HEAVY BURSTS OF SNOW…STRONG WIND GUSTS…AND SUB ZERO WIND CHILL WILL SPREAD ACROSS NORTHERN ROCKIES
Later that week: Wind chills today lowered to 25 to 35 below zero. The is the latest in the season that wind chills have been this cold. Also the high temperature at Missoula was 5 degrees, smashing the record for the lowest maximum temperature for a day this late in the year.
35 degrees below zero! Smashing records! FLASH FREEZE! It all makes for some compelling bedtime reading.
When I first moved to Arlee I became the weather watcher for KECI. Every day by 5 pm I called the special number to report the high, low, and precipitation totals for the day, and anything else noteworthy such as did the wind blow and if so how hard? I had all the gadgets!Digital thermometer setup, rain gauge, snow measurement center (measuring snowfall is complicated!) as well as a hand-held anemometer, aka wind speed reader. It is exciting to stand out in a microburst with that thing in your hand. The day I received a letter from KECI announcing the end of the weather observer program was devastating.
But I remained the National Weather Service observer for my town and every once in a while they’d call me up from Missoula and ask special questions when they could see on radar something dramatic happening up my way, their most frequent question being “How big are the hailstones?” Before I ditched twitter, the NWS account was one of my favorites: readable, interesting, often funny.
Along those lines, if you live in Missoula, or even if not, do yourself a favor today and find Sarah Coefield’s air quality updates, posted here. She is a Missoula County air quality specialist and she has an absolute gift for writing. One feature of her updates that I love, besides her crack wit, is that she has to know about not just air quality science, but also health science, fire science, and weather science, to do her job well. People who know that much science, and are also funny, are people I want to know. Plus she has a delightful adventure cat who appears from time to time in the postings. From September 13, 2022:
If it is still smoky up there, you should know the transport winds over Missoula are supposed to max out at 6 miles per hour late this afternoon. Now, that’s a decent jogging speed for those of us who don’t enjoy running, but it is not going to win any races. So yes, we have some atmospheric mixing, but if we don’t actually have fresh overhead air, and the dirty overhead air we do have is slogging along like a 40-something hockey enthusiast making herself run because endurance is important, but holy Hannah are the tiny muscles in her hips over this particular life choice, then our valley air quality won’t improve much.
I own cloud books and apply my favorite approach, Latin etymology, to learning the names of what we see outside. Cirrostratus: hairlike clouds in layers. Cumulonimbus: piled-up rainclouds. Mammatus: boobies. Did you know a lenticular (think “lens”) cloud, despite its smooth UFO shape, is surrounded by turbulence so rough it can break the wings off a small plane? They often appear above or on the lee side of mountain peaks, so we get them in Montana frequently.
The best weather phenomenon of the Northern Rockies is the August Singularity. Typically we think of August as the last summer stretch of heat and sun (and now, fires). But actually, in the first third of the month there is usually a 1-2 day cool and moist period. It seems like an anomaly, until you remember that it happened last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.You don't know what to do because your raincoat is wadded up in the bottom of your closet and all you have for ready footwear is sandals, but it's 45° and you are not prepared, mentally or otherwise. I get very excited about the August Singularity because it's dramatic and weird, yet kind of predictable. Here’s a whole article about it!
Besides that, we’ve got backdoor cold fronts, Alberta clippers, Chinook winds, microbursts, polar vortices, and of course graupel. Missoula thanks celebrity meteorologist Mark Heyka for introducing us to this important term.
And finally, a confession: since I was small, I’ve been terrified of thunderstorms. Probably this has something to do with my grandmother waking me as a child to sit in the living room at 2 am with rubber-soled shoes on my feet.Even today when a storm is crashing overhead, I huddle under the covers and squeeze my eyes shut so I can’t see the flashes.
As a young person I knew I wanted to be a teacher, or a linguistic anthropologist, or a journalist, or a meteorologist. I managed the first one. Since I’m at 50, I’m modifying these other dreams to “reading about linguistic anthropology” and “writing a substack as a pretend-journalist.” I suppose “knowing enough about weather stuff to annoy my friends” will have to suffice for that last dream.
Poets always say gorgeous things about weather and everything else. I’m out here overwriting about overanalyzing the weather, but here’s Ada Limón, 2022 US poet laureate with something distilled to say about it:
Relentless Sun in the cool expressway underpass air and Ma calls, says it's nice out today during her long walk through the vineyard where spring's pushed out every tizzy-tongued flower known to the valley's bosom of light. I say, Look, we're talking about the weather, and she says, You know, it does help you see the person you're talking to. (The difference in a wind-blown winter's walk in January cold and the loose steps of sun on far-off shoulders.) Then I say, Now, we're talking about talking about the weather. It's very meta of us. Yes, she says, we could go on like this forever. And it's been exactly two months since C died, my hands holding her head, odd extraordinary February sun gone down on the smooth slope of green grass, and all my father and I had done all day was talk about two things: the weather and her breathing. (That machine-body gone harsh in its prolonging and the loud gasping sigh of dying, thick as a hawk's cry, breaking out in the cloudless atmosphere.) Some impossibly still moment, we stood looking at the long field's pull and we wanted her to die, for her sake, wanted the motor of body to give up and go. How strange this silent longing for death, as if you could make the sun not come up, the world's wheeling and wheeling its seasons like a cruel continuation of stubborn force. But that's not how it happens. Instead, light escapes from the heart's room and for a moment you believe the clock will stop itself. Absence. You see: light escapes from a body at night and in the morning, despite the oppressive vacancy of her leaving's shadow, light comes up over the mountains and it is and it is and it is. -Ada Limón
That was the number in Richmond, VA, anyway. Maybe not everywhere.
Except a real-life barometer, which is a thing I think I need now, in my middle age.
Actually, it did not really happen last year, 2022.
I mean, maybe he didn’t. But I’m starting the rumor.
I guess wearing shoes is how you didn’t get struck by lightning if you grew up in Alabama in the 1920s. Also applies to walking through snake-infested yards.