Posts Tagged ‘weather’

Seems like I’ve written a lot about hot weather on this blog — the blisterbitchers, and the lack of air conditioning, and the end-of-summer bursts of heat, and slow sizzling afternoons at the beach.

Not sure why that is. Maybe it reflects some deep-seated personal preference for summer over winter.

Or maybe southern Connecticut just tends to get hotter than colder, so I’ve had more calendar entries to choose from on the warm end of the scale.

Now that it’s winter enough for everyone, it seems like we’re due for an entry with some really savage cold, lest my readers get to thinking Fairfield County is some sort of tropical paradise.

Set the controls to … well, not the heart of the sun, exactly. Set ’em for January 1968.

Lyndon Johnson is president. The Beatles, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, and Jay and the Techniques (of Allentown, Pennsylvania) are on the radio.

And most of the United States is as cold as a whore’s goodbye.

January 8-11, 1968.

January 8-11, 1968.

We’ll choose the morning of January 9, and let the Associated Press tell the story (as reproduced on Page One of the Plattsburgh, N.Y., Press-Republican):

– Temperatures below freezing are clocked in 47 of the 48 contiguous states.

– Freezing rain, drizzle and sleet tie up roads from New Mexico to Oklahoma. Some parts of New Mexico — New Mexico! — receive six fresh inches of snow atop five already on the ground.

– A record low of 13 degrees is reported in Dallas.

– “Numerous deaths” are attributed to the weather; one assumes they were still being counted. (By Thursday afternoon, authorities would quantify the cold-related deaths at 82, with at least another 18 to 20 still under investigation.)

– Up to 10 inches of fresh snow fall in parts of the Northeast.

– A hotel fire in Philadelphia forces 350 elderly men and women, some naked, into the streets in 10-degree weather. Remarkably, none are killed in the fire, though 39 people are hospitalized.

(That’s just Page One. On Page Two we read about firefighters in Schenectady, N.Y., fighting two major downtown blazes in seven-below-zero cold, and a nationwide outbreak of Asian flu that’s killed 192 people in the Northeast alone.)

And that wasn’t the end of the cold. It kept going and going, all week long.

On Friday, Jan. 12, the New York Times reported that New Yorkers had endured seven straight days of below-freezing temperatures, with three of the days setting record lows.

The Automobile Club of New York reported receiving 23,000 phone calls since Monday the 8th from drivers unable to start their cars. Con Ed reported record demand for electricity, steam and natural gas. Commuter railways suffered major weather-related delays. And a ship just in from the North Atlantic turned around and left New York for Baltimore, hoping its winches and other equipment would thaw out enough there to allow for the unloading of cargo.

Speaking of Lyndon Johnson, as we were a while ago, the cold of January 1968 forced itself into his routine as well.

Cut to about 4:05 into the monthly film of Johnson’s activities produced by the U.S. government, and you’ll see footage of kids in fake fur-trimmed winter jackets, bopping up and down in the cold. You’ll also see adults wearing that sure-is-cold rictus grin that grown-ups get when they have to stand outside at official events in the wintertime.

The scene could pass for Albany, or at least Philadelphia.

And then you hear the voiceover: “On the 7th of January, some very chilly citizens of San Antonio gathered at Randolph Air Force Base.”

LBJ missed the very worst of the weather because he spent the first half of the month at his “Texas White House,” hosting Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and working on his State of the Union speech.

My grandparents, stuck in Connecticut not far outside New York City, didn’t have that good fortune.

I would like to say they kept moving and muddled through. But I see the canceled doctor’s appointment on the calendar, and I conclude that this cold snap was bad enough to force even the most stoic to the sidelines.

(I’m not sure I can blame cold-related befuddlement for my grandpa recording his doctor’s appointment at 12:30 a.m., rather than 12:30 p.m. He did that on other calendar entries. It seems to have been a repeated quirk of his, like buying lottery tickets.)

I also notice that my grandfather didn’t embellish extreme cold like he did extreme heat. There are no creative expressions for cold days — no “blisterbitchers” or “dingdongers.” Just extra-thick, extra-emphatic numbers with what look like long, trailing fingers of ice.

Maybe, for all his protestations about uncomfortably hot weather, he preferred that extreme to the other.

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There are a million stories in the naked city … like the time the Empire State Building “caught fire” in the middle of the Christmas season.

It was December 10, 1966, an unseasonably warm evening in New York City, with Saturday-night travelers and holiday shoppers thick on the streets.

One of them, in the area of 34th Street and Fifth Avenue, pulled a fire alarm.

Shortly after 6 p.m., three fire engines, two hook-and-ladder trucks and a rescue squad came roaring into the area, ready to fight something all of the men aboard must have secretly dreaded — a fire on the upper stories of one of New York’s tallest landmarks.

The firemen dashed into the building, hauling equipment, as thousands of passers-by gathered, gawked and took pictures.

(This according to the New York Times, to whom this entire account is deeply indebted. Presumably the alert had not yet gone out to clear the sidewalks surrounding the building.)

A few minutes later, the all-clear sounded. There was no fire, just the illusion of smoke, created by a dense, swirling cloud of smog and the lights of the building’s upper stories.

And the city sighed with relief, for a moment, then moved on to the next of its million stories and momentary distractions.

My grandfather was not there, as far as I know.

He sure enough saw the smog, though:

December 9, 1966.

December 9, 1966.

I’ve written about environmental alerts showing up on my grandpa’s calendar. Those were a few years later, though. I don’t remember every one of his entries, but this is the earliest entry I can remember to make special notice of pollution or harmful environmental conditions.

Apparently this bout of smog and fog hung around for a few days — and got pretty serious before it finally cleared out.

The New York Times of Dec. 11 reported that Connecticut state health officials declared an air pollution alert due to “lingering stagnant air” over much of the state. Officials called a halt to open burning, and asked residents to stop other activities that could contribute to the smog.

(Unfortunately, it looks like my grandpa had a couple errands to attend to on the 10th that required him to burn some gasoline. A gentleman needs his trousers and a clean set of teeth, after all. Alas, I must blame my grandma — that looks like her writing — for transposing his dental appointment 12 hours ahead.)

The paper also reported that New York’s airports, as well as highways in northern New Jersey, were forced by fog to close for the morning of Dec. 10.

Temperatures were warm up and down the Eastern Seaboard, with cities from Hatteras, N.C., to Syracuse, N.Y., reporting record highs.

And the lead of the Times’ Page One weather story deserves reproduction here:

A perspiring Santa Claus outside Lord & Taylor on Fifth Avenue growled “Merry Christmas” to a staring youngster, and at the Weather Bureau office in Hangar 11 at Kennedy International Airport, the meteorologists “kept the door open to catch a breeze.” It was Dec. 10.

I wonder what the reporter would have written had he (or she) been assigned to follow Bill Blumenau around for the day.

A perspiring middle-aged man grumbled to himself in the dentist’s chair: He’d dressed for winter, and the office was unexpectedly stuffy. He shifted his position to keep from sticking to the seat. It was Dec. 10.

# # # # #

A couple of notes catching up from last week’s post, which featured some original music based on 70-year-old home recordings of my grandpa playing piano:

– Thanks to those of you who took the chance and went to check out the sounds. (If you meant to do so, and it slipped your mind, the Hope’s Treat EP can still be heard here.)

– Thanks to your support, Hope’s Treat actually showed up on some of Bandcamp’s popularity rankings, based on the tags I used to label the EP.

I wrote about Bill Blumenau’s unlikely ascension to chart semi-stardom on my other blog; those posts are here and here, if you’d like to read them.

– Finally, some suggested that the good readers of Hope Street might be more interested in my grandpa’s original piano solos than my alterations of same.

For those who fit that description, here’s a short YouTube movie featuring my grandfather playing a medley of two songs.

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It seems like just yesterday I was writing about the promises of summer, both kept and unkept.

Well, damned if summertime hasn’t come and gone, my oh my.

It hasn’t technically vanished yet, of course. If I do the math correctly, the equinox won’t happen until roughly 9:30 p.m. Eastern time on September 22.

And, we might still get a shot or two of summery weather. Indeed, this has been such a tame summer where I am that our September and early-October heat waves might end up being the warmest points of the year.

But, if you’re between 5 and 17, the summer has most definitely ended. Either it has in the past two weeks, or it will this week, when the bell rings. (My own kids have two more days of tadpole-wrangling and seed-spitting left. And by the standards of other kids we know in other places across the country, they’re getting off lucky.)

And, really, when the kids go back to school, the summer’s over. The opening of school casts enough of a cultural shadow over the rest of life that those last few calendar weeks of “summer” just aren’t the same.

When the free are no longer free, neither are the rest of us.

This week, we’ll go back to the calendar entries for one last blast of summer sunshine — a little something to carry us into the season of wither.

July 13, 1966.

July 13, 1966. No baseball today (All-Star break) but the Mets and Yankees are both mired in ninth. RIP, Vowinkel.

Southwestern Connecticut can be a foully humid place in the summer. I can remember wanting to spend my birthday there as a kid and my mom declining, in part because the weather was usually so uncomfortable.

For all that, there aren’t that many times on my grandpa’s calendars when the weather reached or topped the 100-degree threshold.

According to news reports, July 13, 1966, found much of the country caught up in a nasty heat wave and drought.

The Associated Press reported 28 deaths in St. Louis alone — where temperatures had topped 100 for four straight days — as well as 100 people treated for heat-related illnesses at Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game.

Power shortages were forcing utility companies to put rolling blackouts in place in some areas. The weather offered little relief: Severe thunderstorms and high winds were reported in Ohio, the Detroit area and parts of Georgia, while hailstorms were seen on the New York-Vermont line. In Oklahoma, no measurable rainfall had been reported in more than three weeks.

In Chicago, black youth looted stores and broke windows after police turned off a fire hydrant serving as inner-city heat relief. And in Columbus, Ohio, a religious tent meeting came to an early end when high winds stove in the tent — with 600 people inside.

Nothing quite so dramatic happened in Stamford, just an uncommonly stinking summer day. You can see the sun in my grandpa’s drawing dripping heat — or maybe it’s sweating, like everybody else.

I suppose that kind of weather is a littleĀ too hot for pleasure, and we should be thankful not to have had any of it this year.

Still, when summer’s over, a 100-degree day can’t help but seem endless and idyllic and lemonade-chilled and open to every possibility.

In the not-too-distant future, the temperature will sink to one-half that … and then to one-quarter that. It will not be entirely unpleasant, this decline, but it will make us miss green grass and sunshine. So, we can take a few minutes and bask in it one last time.

Three weeks ’til the equinox.

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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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