Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Worldwide Weather

It was 60 degrees on Jan. 14, a ridiculous temperature for winter in New England. You can't take a photo of 60 degrees, but I had to take a photo of something to try to record something so fleeting but so real in the moment, so I went down to my favorite waterfront salt marsh and took a photo of the glossy yellow marsh grass and and light-filled sky above. Birds were active, but the trees were bare; it's winter.
The next day was dark, cooler, and nasty with that coastal-wet, stinging sensation you get around here, even though the temperature was mid 40s. That night it snowed.
Today we're glutted with fat, wet, thickly-hanging snow cover, piling up on the tree branches and slushing the lawns and sidewalks. I watch the melting snow fall steadily off the thickly coated branches. Clumps of snow pour down in a continuous, variable (a little, then a lot) faucet-stream of wet white snow. Falling not from the sky, but the treetops. It's kind of a second act.
It's not snowing now. It's weathering.
Last week in Beirut fierce rain storms off the Mediterranean lashed the city for days. That's winter in the part of the world where our daughter lives. The same storm system brought snow to Israel and the West Bank. Newspaper photos showed kids trying to make snow ball fights just like they've seen other kids do on news footage of other people's winters.
In Beirut the heavy rain attacked the balcony where Sonya keeps her plants. It blew a poinsettaa, a Christmas season poinsetta (I'd say they're big in Lebanon, but that's redundant; anything having to do with any holiday celebration is big in Lebanon) out of its pot, tore it up by the roots, and threw it against a very large, space-taking climbing plant (probably the bougainvillea), tangling its roots and branches in this greater wall of green. There it remained some time while the rains soaked the city, hanging on for dear life, emitting the silent screams of a plant that's had its lifeline to the earth rudely removed and finds itself roots-up in the air -- never a good posture for a plant -- clinging with its little twiggy fingers onto a larger plant, rather than fall to the cold, dead pavement below.
Remarkably, Sonya found the plant still in this precarious position when the storm let up and re-potted it sufficiently to keep it alive.
This storm in the Mediterranean, dramatic as it was for that part of the world, may portend nothing for the weather heading our way.
We are blessed in our family with a meteorologist of repute, who detects storms and other phenomena in the upper airs. The upper airs, as I recall from my own liberal arts highly unscientific background, are where where the ancient gods of Greek mythology lived on Mount Olympus; and the Olympian gods, as you'll remember from the Greek myths, are always stirrers-up of trouble for mere mortals.
But in the world of science, the upper air is where the weather comes from, up up and away, over the poles, and in the jet stream and in other atmospheric places referred to by meteorologists and climate scientists in jargon terms I do not intend to remember.
What I picture up there in the upper atmosphere is some huge mythological fist ready to come down on us, pretty soon (a week or two), according to the predictive computer models. The prediction this time is a deep cold spell, not a blizzard.
We all know from recent experience with superstorm Sandy that unusually strong storms can be predicted from these models. Our family star meteorologist predicted a strong winter hurricane for the East Coast well in advance of its arrival. Sandy struck and in some cases shattered places where I grew up, on Long Island. I'm not looking forward to a similar punch from the upper airs landing on Boston.
Today, living near the shore in Eastern Massachusetts, I watch the weather bring us that fat wet snow, our second this year after almost no snow last year. But these are just little slaps and nudges from Worldwide Weather.
We are all in this together. All air, all atmosphere, all atmospheric pollution, all weather is connected.
Yesterday's winter storm was called Helen. A Greek name. Not a storm to launch a thousand ships -- or even, around here, a thousand snow plows. Just enough to give us something to think about.