I was home visiting my parents in Massachusetts when I noticed it. There’d be an alert on my weather app—severe thunderstorm watch, flash flood warning, excessive heat until 8 p.m. The language was dry and direct. At the bottom, though, this name: Frank. Whatever threat I’d been reading about softened. It was only Frank the meteorologist, letting me know. I pictured him squinting at dew points or staring intently at the latest radar reports. A face behind the weather. Not the first.
I grew up in a high-rise apartment building on Boston Harbor. My friends would marvel at the view, counting the blue glow of computer monitors in a nearby office building or watching tourists line up for photos by the aquarium’s seal tank next door. I liked to do those things too. But no matter where I looked, I was always aware of the view east towards open ocean. That’s where the big storms blew in, the ones I watched with her.
“They’re flying low,” she’d whisper, pointing to the gulls through the window, her eyes wide. The first sign of weather. Then the harbor cleared of boats. The chairs we kept on the little porch off the living room started rocking on their own, the screen door rattling in its track. Some mothers would put a show on with the volume turned up or herd her children into interior rooms. Not mine. As soon as the first drops fell, she scooped me up in her arms and slid open the porch door, the wind alive in our faces. A wall of dark clouds rumbled to the east, coming this way. We’d count the lightning strikes, the thunder cracks so loud my heart stuttered. It smelled like batteries and wet cement. Cool brine. Soon, the rain came down so hard you couldn’t see the airport. We’d laugh into the wild air. She was always particular about her hair but not then, not ever. It whipped around her like a mane.
When my husband and I visit my in-laws in Pittsburgh, we talk a lot about the weather. We even bought them a weather station a few years ago for Christmas. It’s mounted beside the fridge and displays real-time data like the temperature inside and out and how much rain has fallen. We’ll drink beer from tumbler glasses at their kitchen table and hear about what a wet spring it’s been and the one perfect afternoon when they took the Miata out for a drive around the park. On the wall behind us the data updates. It’s gone up a degree. The winds have shifted ENE. It’s not all that different from Twitter or Instagram when you think about it. Something’s always changing. There’s always more to notice. Because what is weather if not an endless source of something? The conversation unfurls. Weather chat has always been the great unifier, after all. Polite and safe and doesn’t ask too much of you. No one has nothing to add. My mother-in-law cranks open the kitchen window and breathes in the fresh air. “Nice and cool,” she says into the evening. “It is,” we say, all the rest of us, as if on cue.
We live in Oregon now. People say climate change has made it better, but the wildfires are bigger and faster now, the storms stronger. This past spring, when we’re usually under low clouds and drizzle, there was a stretch of days that felt like earth had not gotten the memo. My husband and I sat on our back deck with our faces turned up to the sun. We might have had some glasses of lemonade, some cheese and crackers arranged on a dish. Short sleeves. We didn’t say anything for a while. A gentle breeze swayed the branches of our neighbor’s doug fir. Then he turned to me. “What’s the word for enjoying something but also feeling melancholy because you know it’s for a bad reason?” I said the Germans must have come up with something, which made him laugh a little.
It was dry for weeks after that, unlike anything anyone had ever seen.
There will never be an alert for these spells, the “unseasonable” ones. Frank will never write about it in his report. Climate is not weather, after all. He knows better than anyone. But he must think about it. He must know the word.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/EandJsFilmCrew