Something is changing, and not just the climate

By From page A12 | December 09, 2012

You know the feeling you get sometimes that your relationship with someone is changing? You’re not getting along as smoothly as before, or you’re getting along better, but you’re not sure why. You notice things you didn’t notice before. You behave differently, too.

That’s happening with the weather and me.

Take last weekend. My husband was out of town, so I decided to spend Friday through Sunday at our cabin in the country. When I heard that storms were coming, I felt sad that kayaking might be out, but the forecasters made it sound as if the weather itself would put on quite a show.

Rain was predicted, lots of it.

The first thing I thought about was Hurricane Sandy. I packed an extra flashlight, even though we already have three plus candles in the cabin. I wondered if we had enough bottled water and decided I could always put a bucket out in the torrent. I brought warm clothes.

Plenty of canned food awaited me if we lost power, but did I have a manual can opener? I drove out and bought one.

The role of TV in my behavior was huge. Every station lavished resources — trucks, personnel, air time — on catching the first drops of rain, as if they expected them to be mixed with gold bullion.

The heavy coverage was no surprise because Hurricane Sandy, close to us in memory if not geography, terrified with its power. With global warming, people have begun to see the weather as armed and dangerous, and TV stations love to report crime.

But why does the weather also seem like a plaything? The TV forecasters, first up in the news, try to look professional, but I can tell they are drooling. Up in our cabin, I spend an inordinate amount of time checking websites on my smartphone as I await the wild weather, flashlight at my side, can opener on the counter, and excitement in my heart.

A little buzz in my head says I shouldn’t feel this way but I do.

As if reading a thriller, I have trouble falling asleep and I awaken at 1, 3 and 5 a.m. to turn on the porch light in hopes of seeing the rain I don’t hear on the roof. In the past, did I lose sleep monitoring the weather?

I don’t think so.

In Lotus, where our cabin is, following the weather means following river predictions, too.

An ordinary flow on the South Fork of the American River is around 1,500 cubic feet per second, but Friday graphs from the National Weather Service forecast a flow of 20,000 cfs over Chile Bar Dam. If 20,000 cfs are coming over the dam, what will the actual flow be when it reaches me 10 miles downstream after several big creeks have joined the maelstrom?

It could mean flooding.

Neighbors start emailing neighbors via the local listserv warning people to move firewood, picnic tables and other potential debris to high ground. I remember the last big flood, about 40,000 cfs in winter 2005, when the entire area we planned on using for our daughter’s wedding became a field of muddy rocks.

I don’t want that kind of flood again, but you wouldn’t know it from my behavior. I am excited, full of curiosity, wanting something dramatic to happen.

I speak with friends, and each person shares some special knowledge about weather patterns, weather prediction or the river. One reminisces about 20 years of floods, small and large. Another talks about logs in the river. One couple bets with each other–10 minutes of foot massage–over how high the river will go. I admit: it’s fun comparing notes.

But questions nag at me.

How does weather go from a fun pastime for forecasters on TV and neighbors in a river community to a disaster like what we saw in New York and New Jersey? Does everyone pass through a convivial stage, full of anticipation and lively conversation with friends, and do they look back at themselves in disgust after tragedy strikes? Is the pre-storm camaraderie one of the reasons people don’t leave their homes when they should?

The comedy and tragedy of weather are coming close enough together now to confuse me.

Is it OK to have fun with the weather for a while, no matter how it ends?

Although last weekend’s storm fizzled in most areas, there were serious outcomes. After Sunday morning’s deluge, streams flooded and some homes got water inside. Authorities advised people to evacuate from a low-lying plain near the Truckee River, and although that turned out to be nothing, those people might not listen next time.

On the other hand, everybody had a story.

What, in the end, was mine?

It rained hard on Sunday morning, later than predicted and more briefly. The river rose, but no more than it does during a big June snowmelt. The power stayed on. On Sunday I walked to the biggest rapid on the river and watched and pointed with kayaking friends as the river roared by on 8,000 cfs of mud-colored steroids. That was fun.

So what was different, really different, after I spent a whole weekend obsessing about the weather?

I own a manual can opener.

— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at [email protected]

Marion Franck

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