By Shelley Wildgen
Hail bigger than your head! Snowbanks as high as houses! And the heat…that oppressively sweltering newly minted summertime heat! It’s everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The weather, just air that forms into droplets and crystals, then drying out only to refill and generally doing its thing like it always has…except now, well it’s…bigger.
Weather is the first thing we check when we wake up, and often it’s the last thing we pre-check before going to bed. We discuss it with strangers. We wonder about it, dread it, hope for it, resent it, but always we talk about it. The idle child’s play comment of yore, “Is it the heat or the humidity?” spoken when summers were long and stable with the occasional extra hot day is gone. Now our discourse turns to weather-related events. “Did your power go out in the storm?” “Our basement has flooded two springs in a row.” “Did the river get up to your house?” “My buddy was snowed in his house for a week.” And on it goes. These near catastrophes are now part of our common chit chat because the weather has become more of an entity than a situation.
Many years ago when I was a fledgling announcer at a radio station in Winnipeg, the staff was summoned to an important programming meeting. There was a guy from ‘Accu-weather’ coming to speak about a new feature being offered on the station. As we sat and listened to this weather expert talk about the future of weather and its value to our listeners, most of us did inward eye rolls at the mere suggestion that the weather should become the cornerstone of everything on the air. This guy was selling the station accu-weather reports that the listeners were going to eat up as the years went by. It was emphasized that the weather was going to be the next broadcasting commodity because weather was going to become more significant than ever before. Honestly, I couldn’t believe that the station owner had sanctioned such snake oil. The weather? Really? Wasn’t it bad enough that we were already selling air? Thirty years later it now all makes sense. Clearly the weather people knew more about what was ahead than we did. But that’s their job, right?
So, now it’s true. Weather isn’t just a big part of our days; it often is our day. Walking home from downtown during a windstorm requires more than an upturned coat collar. It requires a hard hat to repel whatever trees and debris are being blown at us. Not long ago a tree fell on our house. I had been lying in bed reading a book as the sunlight streamed in the window. It was that fresh sunlight that follows a thunderstorm and it was nice. What happened next wasn’t. The entire room went dark as a very tall tree that had been weakened in the storm came crashing down the window side of the room taking out part of the roof and eaves trough. Nobody expects that.
What followed wasn’t simply a neighbourly chat about the rain having been good for the farmers. Instead our neighbours rushed over with their chainsaws to begin to saw the storm stricken tree off of our house. The weather now is just so extreme, but it does make for lively conversation that is not just suited for an elevator conversation. In fact, rarely can we cover all that has happened in one elevator ride.
And now what of the snowbirds? Can they even be called that anymore? They’re as confused as the real geese flying south. Should I stay or should I go? It wasn’t that long ago – or was it? – that Florida was a positively tropical retreat for Canadians. Why I remember my Aunt Mame (yes, I really had one) and Aunt Myrtle would pack their big colour TV in the back seat of their car, then leave their Ontario farm in November and hit the lonesome highway pointed south. The two sisters shared their homes – a farmhouse in Ontario and a bungalow in Florida. One couldn’t see and the other couldn’t walk but, combined, they boomeranged back and forth every year. Why? Because by alternating six months at each location, they were assured of being able to enjoy a nice, warm climate throughout the year. I thought of them this past winter when a hurricane ripped through the Sunshine State, right where their little pre-fab bungalow once stood. My aunts were tough, old birds but their patience would surely have run as thin as their blood with all the fluctuating temps and weather systems plaguing their once predictable hot spot.
As Canadians we find ourselves dwelling in a virtual snow globe that gets shaken, stirred and kicked around all year ‘round. Sometimes we warily rejoice about sitting on our porches at Christmas, but then just as we get comfortable with a teeny, tiny warmish winter like the one we got this past winter, we are hit with a massive storm. We’ve all grown to hold our breath when we check the weather reports and we tend to tepidly speak more about seasons than days. “It’s going to be a warm one today,” has turned into “Do you think that it is really spring yet?" And even though our devices are almost flawless at giving us up to the minute weather changes, we still pull our heads up regularly to debrief with other souls. Nothing will ever replace the annoying yet fascinating topic of weather. Not even Trump.
So, what’s the upside of our discombobulated global warming affliction?
Well, at least it’s got us talking.