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Posts Tagged ‘weather’

For years now, I’ve been passing along my grandpa’s weather-related reportage to you, the readers.

From the snow and floods of early 1962 to the torrid final week of August 1973, and even to storms that never showed up, I’ve shared my grandfather’s detailed records of temperature and precipitation to bring back long-ago events. He was clearly fascinated by the weather, and he took copious notes about it.

This week I’m here to say that … well, you know all those numbers?

They might not have been 100 percent accurate.

May 29, 1968.

May 29, 1968. The Mets and Yankees are both six games out of first. Neither will play today, for reasons explained directly above.

Four-and-a-half inches of rain is a metric arseload of rain for one day.

That’s wet-basement potential, flash-flood potential, turn-around-don’t-drown potential. (Especially if the preceding days have also been wet, though it doesn’t look like they were in this case.)

It looks like late May and early June of 1968 were pretty crappy, weather-wise, all over the U.S. According to FEMA, flooding and tornado disasters were declared on May 29 in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Iowa, with additional declarations a week later in Illinois and Ohio.

Just last year, the New York Times declared May 29, 1968, still the all-time rainiest May day ever recorded in the five boroughs …

… with a rain total of 3.99 inches.

It’s possible that Stamford, up the coast from New York, somehow got a half-inch more rain than the big city did. (I haven’t been able to find a trustworthy online source for Stamford-specific weather information.)

But they’re not that far apart geographically, and the Times is a pretty authoritative source. Which makes me wonder how and where my grandpa got the weather info he put on his calendars every day.

I’m pretty confident he didn’t just make it up.

And I’m also pretty sure he didn’t have a weather station in his backyard to personally track the temperature and rainfall. Even if he did, he was still working in 1968, and not home all the time so he could keep an eye on it.

If I had to guess, I’d say his weather reports were taken from either the Stamford Advocate or WSTC, the local radio station. The Tri-State area is large enough that the New York papers and stations might not be counted on to give Stamford-specific info.

Wherever he got it from, I’m now suspecting that it might have been an inch off here, a couple of degrees off there — sometimes on the high side, sometimes on the low.

It doesn’t really matter in the long run. Everything I write about is locked safely away in the past. And no one’s looking to my grandpa’s calendar entries as any kind of accurate historical record.

But I always assumed they were accurate to one-tenth of an inch, so I’m a little put off.

Ah, well. It is an important step in all of our personal development to learn that our elders are flawed, and don’t always have the right answers.

Some of us just take longer to learn than others.

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It is Nov. 29 as I write this; and within the past 24 hours, I have seen mentions on social media of the possibility of a big winter storm sometime between Dec. 10 and 15.

I guess, by the time you read this, we’ll all know whether it happened.

Even if we’re not looking back at a big storm, we’re always looking forward to the potential of one at this time of year.

I don’t know how the cult of the white Christmas got started. Was it the song that did it, or did people pray for snow on Dec. 25 before the song was written?

Either way, this is the time of year when those of us who are accustomed to snow (and who celebrate Christmas) start hoping for a storm at least big enough to coat the ground on Dec. 25.

Since snow is on my brain — and the formal start of winter is just a few days away — I thought it would be appropriate to go looking for a real whopper of a snowstorm on my grandfather’s calendars.

The one I chose didn’t happen in December, but the calendar entry captures the moment pretty nicely anyway.

February 14-15, 1962.

February 14-15, 1962.

(Apropos de nada, I like the differing dimensions of the two hearts on the Feb. 14 Valentine’s Day drawing. Kinda suggests that the ideal love partnership does not involve two perfect twins, but rather two sides that each bring something different to the table.)

Anyway, looks like Stamford got socked pretty good. Twelve inches of snow meant two days of no school and one day of no work. No nuthin’, even. Love the snow crowding the TV antennas — that’s a nice period touch.

This wasn’t the worst storm of the season, as it turned out. Just three weeks later, the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962 would devastate chunks of the Atlantic seaboard, kill 40 people, and bring heavy rains and flooding to Stamford.

March 5-7, 1962.

March 5-7, 1962.

Nor’easters are something totally different; I’m trying to keep my mind off those.

Instead, I’ll imagine thick flakes of driving snow piling up quickly on roofs and streets and pine trees; and heavy gray skies giving way to darkness; and the hush of a snow-covered morning on an atypically quiet street; and the momentary confusion in the mind of a corporate workhorse as he realizes there will be no draftsman’s table waiting for him that day.

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Media storm-hype is one of those things, like Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving, that seems to get worse and worse every year — and no one seems able to do anything to stop it. Like a gelatinous sci-fi blob, it gains its own malevolent momentum.

If it’s any consolation, it doesn’t appear to be a recent invention.  Go back to this week 47 years ago, and you’ll find my family getting concerned over a storm that never posed any threat to southern New England:

August 31, 1966.

August 31, 1966. The Yankees’ record is only two games better than that of the Mets.

September 1, 1966.

September 1, 1966.

You’ll note that the calendar entries for Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 find someone taking notes about the path of a hurricane.

(That doesn’t look to me like my grandfather’s usual handwriting, though I suppose it must be, and I’ll assume it is.)

The Aug. 31 entry is even timelined — 6 a.m. — which suggests my grandpa took the storm seriously enough to have his eye on it early. In that pre-Internet age, he wouldn’t have had those figures on hand precisely at 6 a.m., but he might have caught them on early-morning radio or television.

What’s curious is that the most convenient history of the 1966 Atlantic hurricane season shows no storms particularly close to Stamford.

Hurricane Faith was churning around during that period of time, but it doesn’t seem to have posed any serious threat to the East Coast. Apparently it stirred up some high seas between Virginia and Florida, and that was about it.

The coordinates shown on the Aug. 31 entry are well off the coast of Orlando, Florida, while the coordinates on Sept. 1 are well off the coast of Wilmington, North Carolina. Beyond that, there are no further notations.

I assume southern New England had some brief potential, early in the storm’s development, to end up in its crosshairs … and my grandparents got sucked up into the forecasts and decided to keep a record of the storm as it progressed.

If Stamford got any sort of heavy weather from the storm, I don’t see any indication of it on the calendar. (Apparently there was a good soaking rain in Provincetown, Mass., that weekend, but contemporary accounts don’t make it sound like anything epochal.)

We’re just about in hurricane season now, and some pundits believe it’s going to be a heavy one. They may be right.

Or, they may be the spiritual descendants of the weather worrywarts who apparently convinced my grandparents to pay attention to a distant hurricane, long, long ago and (thankfully) far, far away.

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A little thematic music.

There’s an old expression you can probably still hear wherever high-school football coaches gather: “He got his bell rung.”

In those grand old manly days before anyone cared about the long-term effects of concussions, “getting your bell rung” meant sustaining a hit to the head that left you disoriented and staggering — or, perhaps, laid flat.

(But not for more than a couple of plays. A man played through it, even if he couldn’t see straight.)

This week’s calendar entry makes me think of somebody getting his bell rung — not by a beefy defensive tackle, but by sizzling summer weather.

August 3 and 4, 1973. Another Coast Guard Day, another sizzler.

August 3 and 4, 1973. Another Coast Guard Day, another sizzler. The Mets are nine-and-a-half back.

“Ding-donger,” I suppose, is a more socially polite equivalent of “blisterbitcher.”

To me, it summons visions of heat intense enough to make a man feel a little dizzy, like he’d been slapped upside the head by Deacon Jones on his way past. Like in the old cartoons, where somebody totters around after taking a lick, and you see ringing bells and twittering birds circling his head. That kind of thing.

I also find the word tremendously evocative of summer. I imagine myself broiling in some little New England town, and hearing church bells struggling to push their way through the thick air and be heard. I can just about feel that scene, for some reason.

88 degrees doesn’t seem quite hot enough for such a rousing declaration, though. I can only guess it was a humid, windless 88 degrees, hotter than it looks on the page at a distance of four decades.

(I also note that it only went down to 70 the night before, so my grandparents’ stuffy old house probably got heated up pretty good by the time the temperature hit 88.)

You’ll see how the weather on Aug. 3 bleeds over the line and enters the morning of Aug. 4. That’s a neat detail: I can just about imagine the sun burning off the early-morning clouds and taking over.

The real story of this calendar entry didn’t get written down or illustrated, though.

You’ll see that my Aunt Elaine and her fiance (just two weeks away from their wedding) stopped by for dinner.

While my grandpa was pulling at his collar and wiping his brow and drinking cold Seven-Up and getting all melodramatic about the weather, my grandma was in the steaming hot kitchen making a proper dinner — probably with an assist from my great-grandma.

Five will get you ten that neither of them pissed and moaned about the heat.

I bet, in their own subdued way, they survived the ding-donger with poise and composure that would have impressed even a high-school football coach.

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Twelve years after he died, and 40-plus years after he filled out his calendar entries, my grandfather continues to teach me things.

Consider the following calendar entry, which made no sense to me at first:

July 15, 1972.

July 15, 1972.

“No rain”? Well, yeah, a whole lot of days passed without rain between 1961 and 1975. So why single out this one for specific notation?

And for that matter, what exactly is St. Swithin’s Day, and why would it come pre-marked on a calendar? Is it really that big a deal?

I couldn’t ask my grandpa. So I turned to Google, which enlightened me about a bit of British weather lore I had never heard.

(Perhaps everyone else in the world knew about this already, and I am the only one who didn’t get the memo. Or maybe it’s generational — once-common knowledge that is dwindling over the decades. At any rate, I’d never heard the story.)

Apparently our friends across the pond believe that if it rains on St. Swithin’s feast day, July 15, it will continue to rain for the next 40 days. And if the skies are clear, they’ll stay clear for the next 40 days.

The Wiki entry on St. Swithun, as it’s more accurately spelled, says there’s an underpinning of scientific truth beneath the old proverb. In the British Isles, at least, weather patterns do tend to hold steady from mid-July through the end of August.

It’s not a result of saintly intervention — it’s a jet-stream thing — but, still, there’s a good chance the weather will behave more or less the way St. Swithun would predict. (Compare that to America’s perverse and totally unfounded love affair with the groundhog.)

The summer weather apparently isn’t all that variable in Stamford, either. My grandpa’s calendar for July 1972 shows humid summer weather remaining in play for pretty much the entire latter half of the month. A day of rain on July 31 snapped the sunny streak, though, and put the lie to St. Swithun’s prediction.

My grandpa wasn’t British (or Catholic), but he was interested in the weather, and probably enjoyed a good folktale when he heard one. So it doesn’t surprise me that he would have taken note of the meteorological outcome of St. Swithin’s Day.

The legend of St. Swithin’s Day strikes me as uniquely British, and I’m still not sure why it would have come pre-printed on a calendar sold in the U.S. I can’t answer every question these calendar entries raise, I guess.

The only other reference I’ve ever heard to St. Swithin’s Day came from Frank Sinatra, who name-dropped it in his famous 1990 open letter telling George Michael to loosen up and swing. (According to Mark Steyn, “St. Swithin’s Day” was a favored phrase of Sinatra’s.)

So that’s the story of this particular piece of weather lore, anyway.

I’m guessing my grandpa was none too happy on July 15, 1972, then. Thanks to an obscure British saint, he had 40 days of blisterbitchers to look forward to.

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