Weather or Not

By Mordechai Schiller

(Getty Images)

Back in the ’60s, I once tried writing a haiku. I didn’t stick to the traditional Japanese form of 17 syllables, but I did follow the form of a three-line poem evoking the season.

                Rustle of leaves

                On the dancing branches.

                 Summer wind.

My haiku came to mind last week when I opened my fifth-floor window overlooking Ocean Parkway and saw what passes for nature in New York. The branches on the trees were being whipped around by the wind. But they didn’t look like they were dancing. They seemed to be running for cover.

I checked the weather report. It said “breezy.” Whenever it says breezy, I know to hold onto my hat. If it says “windy,” I batten down the hatches. (What are hatches and how do you batten them? Oxford English Dictionary cites H. Stuart’s 1860 Novices or Young Seaman’s Catechism: “It is sometimes necessary in bad weather to put on the gratings [hatches] and nail tarpaulins over them: this is called ‘battening down.’”)

I don’t put much faith in weather reports. I remember now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t blizzards that only appeared when school wasn’t called off. (COVID has forever Zoom-bombed snow days. Sorry, kids.) And then the blizzard would hit like a meteor.

No, that’s not why weather forecasters are called meteorologists. The first sense of meteorology in the OED is “The branch of science that deals with atmospheric phenomena and processes, esp. with a view to forecasting the weather.”

Check five weather reports. Chances are you’ll find a range of five degrees or more. You can get that much of a spread from JFK to Central Park. But how hot is it where I am? They never tell me that.

A Pogo cartoon from the ’50s opened with the resident cynic, Porky Pine, saying, “Well, ever’body talks ’bout the weather but nob’dy does nothin’ ’bout it … as the feller says …”

This set off a fight between two other characters, yelling, “Mr. Twain said it,” and, “Mr. Clemens said it!”

Finally, Pogo asks Porky, “Who did say it?”

Porky replies, “You was here … You heared it … I said it.”

But the joke doesn’t end there. Mark Twain (pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens) denied ever saying it.

The comment appeared in an 1897 editorial in the Hartford Courant. Twain claimed that his “friend and collaborator Charles Dudley Warner … made the remark.” But the editorial said: “A well-known American writer said once that, while everybody talked about the weather, nobody seemed to do anything about it.” (In The Quote Verifier, Ralph Keyes credited Twain.)

Well, I do dew something about it. Half the year (Sukkos to Pesach), I pray for rain; half the year, I pray for dew.

Did you ever listen to a weather report and then ask, “What did they say?” Trying to make sense of weather jargon, I found that National Weather Service (NWS) has a glossary. So, let’s figure out some of this together.

(I used to check AccuWeather. But once I saw that they took hazardous weather warnings from the NWS, I figured why get my weather retail if I can get it straight from the wholesaler?)

Robert Zimmerman was wrong. You do need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Getting back to the branches blowing in the wind, there actually is a difference between breezy and windy. Breezy means 15 to 25 mph winds. Windy means 20 to 30 mph winds. (Yes, there is some overlap. Go figure.) Hurricane winds are 74 mph or stronger.

You’d probably like to forget Superstorm Sandy (2012). It started out as a hurricane, got downgraded to a tropical storm, then collided with a cold mass of air and turned into a nightmare — killing 147 people and leaving more than $70 billion in damage in the United States. But there’s still disagreement on whether it was a “hurricane.”

Normal New York weather is affected by warm, humid wind from the southwest and cold, dry wind from the northwest. So a south wind means warmer air. A north wind is a chiller.

“Wind chill” takes into account the effect of cold wind on your skin, making it feel colder. High humidity interferes with sweat evaporation, making us feel sticky. AccuWeather’s “RealFeel” measure sounds like something out of pop psychology. But it just means they figure in humidity, sun and other factors into their forecast.

While you’re sweating this summer, think cool thoughts. One thing to think about is a Nor’easter — a storm bringing strong winds, heavy snow, rain, and humongous pounding waves. Wind gusts can exceed hurricane force. Just thinking about a nor’easter can make you stop kvetching about shmaltzing (1. Perspiring profusely: DRENCHED. 2. Oppressively hot: SWELTERING. [<Yid.<HGschmaltz (grease)] — Frumspeak: The First Dictionary of Yeshivish.)

Did Twain said say the famous weather quip? Weather or not, he did introduce a novel, “No weather will be found in this book. … Nothing breaks up an author’s progress like having to stop every few pages to fuss-up the weather.”

He added, “Weather is a literary specialty, and no untrained hand can turn out a good article of it.” So, he decided it was “wisest to borrow such weather as is necessary for the book from qualified and recognized experts.”

Twain put all the quotations about weather in an Appendix, where “the reader is requested to turn over and help himself from time to time as he goes along.”

I turned to the Appendix and selected some weather for this column.

I chose “shining azure heavens” and “The fiery mid-March sun a moment hung/Above the bleak Judean wilderness.”

I skipped the 40 days and 40 nights of rain.


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