The Friday Fillip: Weather

The snow that’s currently blowing every which way is going to taper off at 5 p.m. and stop two hours later at 7. Then it’ll be partly cloudy for an hour (though dark, and, so, hard to tell in the city), after which the skies will be clear for the remainder of the night. This is not just my fond hope; it’s the hyperlocal weather forecast for this portion of my street taken straight off the face of my smart phone. We’ve come a long way, it would seem, from squinting up at the sky and asking the nearest farmer.

But my question is why do we care? About the coming weather, I mean, not about my street. Well, obviously we may have plans that the weather will impinge on — although driving right now on and off my street would not be a sensible thing, I can expect to be able to dig the car out and make that journey tomorrow; picnicking in the rain is only some people’s idea of a good time; and high winds will mean that the birthday banners for the backyard party had better be well secured. Sailors’ and pilots’ carefully charted plans are even more sensitive to the weather. And the six remaining farmers live and die by the weather. This much is clear.

There’s more, though, isn’t there? And not just about the forecasted weather. We respond to the fact of the weather now, respond emotionally even. In that way weather is simply a part of the environment — the phenomenal world — that catches our attention, that touches us, and that accepts our projected feelings. Moods, like weather, come, go, whip up out of nowhere (seemingly), have elevation, depressions, are sunny or gloomy . . . Which is why weather figures in so many song lyrics, subbing for emotions. A peculiar and explicit illustration of this is “Emotional Weather Report,” by the peculiar (and, in my view, excellent) Tom Waits, whose website has a free recording of the song along with the lyrics ( . . . “Flash flood watches cover the southern portion of my disposition . . . “)

Then there are numbers: -23C, 101.325 kPa, Beaufort 8, UVI 7 . . . And where the numbers are plentiful and repeating, they can turn into a gateway drug for full-blown stats geekery, a recreational version of which can afflict the most unassuming of us:

What’s the temperature today?
Stick your head out of the window.
No, I mean the actual number.

In the right hands, stats have significance, though their meaning, couched as it must be in terms of probability, is sometimes hard for us to see. Climate and climate change, of course, are the big picture versions of the weather now and the weather forecast. But thanks to the computer we’re developing new ways of seeing that let us grasp whole gestalts at once. A truly lovely illustration of that for current weather patterns can be found on the wind map created by the Earth website. Click on the word Earth that appears in the lower left portion of your screen, to see the aw(ful/some) geekery that lies behind the beautiful lines of wind and temperature. Go ahead: play with it. You know you want to.

Or, let someone else play with and on the weather forecast in a different way. To close, here from the 1960s are the “Master Singers” with their Weather Forecast for the British Isles:

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