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2 "The Weather Watchers" by Sherrill Pool Elizondo

Daddy was as mercurial and unpredictable as Texas weather. Sometimes he was as cold as a bitter winter to those he disagreed with or who tried to control him. He was as warm as a spring day to those less fortunate than himself. He was like a storm at times waiting to tear into someone with rage but often he was like sun rays after the storm with his love, humor, kindness, and his sense of adventure.

He was stronger than the wind blowing evil and meanness away but human weakness made him sometimes as destructive as a tornado. He could be as peaceful as a clear moonlit starry night in summer and as nostalgic as a memory of an autumn day. He was all these things to me and reminded me of the changes in the seasons and the rapidly changing weather in my home state. He was the very first Weather Watcher I ever knew.

I have been a weather watcher for all of my life. I have one son who is the same way and family consults with him during hurricane season. Too bad he did not go into meteorology as I had suggested. I recall many happy times sitting on the front porch with my father while we discussed and watched changing weather. I was brought up in a rural area where farmers and ranchers had a stake in good weather conditions. The lack or abundance of rain and other factors contributed to their well being. Although my family was not a farming family, my father owned a related business that catered to the needs of farmers and ranchers and the weather played an important part in the family business. From my father, I became interested in the daily weather reports and the signs to watch for in the sky. To see the great "northers," as we called the cold fronts back then or to see a black thunderstorm approaching was always exciting. I don't know what people do in other states but I know that in Texas keeping an eye on the weather is a given. Months ago I heard someone make a joke about the announcement of the new hurricane season like maybe this should not be exciting news. The fact is it IS important news and some of us have short memories. I live in Harris County and read recently that there is an increase in the population in the thousands since Hurricane Ike. These are people who have never experienced this force of nature. Like all residents on the gulf coast, they will learn to keep aware of approaching storms.

Rapidly changing weather in Texas led to the saying "If you don't like the weather, just wait…it will change!" For true weather watchers, Texas gives us dramatic changes. At other times, it is more subtle. The change in some of the weather terminology is another matter. Terms like "cold front" took me a while to relate to. The term "norther" or "blue norther" is descriptive vernacular that needs to be seen and felt. I think we have lost some of our regional speech when we are embarrassed to say "norther." For anyone not familiar with the expression let me try to explain what a real blue norther is like. First of all, one needs to really see this phenomena to get the full impact. It is best seen in the wide open spaces where one can see the horizon not blocked by buildings or trees. A really good "norther" is indeed a dark blue/black color. Depending where you are in the state, the temperature can drop 30 degrees or more in a matter of minutes thus the expression that a "farmer left a gate open."(meaning somewhere in the panhandle) In recent years, Texas has changed and re-defined itself much like the changing weather and weather terms have become more sophisticated. Occasionally you will hear a weatherman use the term "norther" but often it is used in jest.

If you have ties to the land, you are probably aware that the weather has very little to do with wearing shorts one day and a coat the next. Our farm and ranch relatives and ancestors kept a vigilant eye on weather conditions for more important reasons often without the assistance of high tech weather forecasting. There are numerous old wive's tales about why and how animals exhibit certain behavior before an approaching storm or change in the weather. Some of them must be true. I don't hear an owl hooting without thinking about Mom saying that this was a sure sign of rain. I often heard too that if cows were laying down in the fields that this was a sign of changing weather. Even plants can exhibit signs of a weather change aside from season change. In San Antonio where I grew up, we called Purple Texas Sage(mainly seen in drier areas of the state) Ceniza. Mother said that if the Ceniza bloomed it was a sure sign of rain. Over the years I had my own unscientific way of forecasting change in the weather. Sometimes those chirpy critters (crickets) seem to show up before cold weather…..not everybody believes me though. Forecasting the weather in this part of the country sometimes is not easy. Right now I am waiting for my favorite season but Fall sometimes is short lived in Texas. When it comes to predicting, I often think of the weather watchers in the college dorm at the university I attended. Someone would just open the door on our floor and tell everyone what to wear for the day! Actually, that could be a forecast for just an hour but someone did it every single morning at SWT in San Marcos. A college student is very lucky if he/she is not changing classes(dressed in summer clothes) when a blue norther is approaching…especially in the hill country.

I recall an extremely cold winter in 1984/1985….many days of freezing temperatures throughout the state and even snow in South Texas. That was a year when one had to consider what to wear just to go to the mailbox! I watched weather reports with the same fascination that many of us track hurricanes. There was one polar blast after another. Weathermen appeared to be bored with reporting the monotonous cold conditions. The winter doldrums can be even worse in Texas as most of us tend to expect hot temperatures and modify our activities. We sometimes underestimate the possibilities of really cold winters. It is not tropical all year long in such places as Houston when you see huge dead Hibiscus bushes in yards after a hard freeze. Folks in places like Amarillo or Dallas are fairly blasé about snow, but I remember the winter of '84-'85 made some residents of south and southeast Texas yearn to get a break from the cold. Records were broken that year. Supposedly, if you admitted to being at least 30 years of age, you had seen the best and worst of Texas winters. Texans get tired of staying indoors and I remember seeing my children, when they finally saw the sun come out and being tired of seeing ice and snow, throwing on their windbreakers and grabbing canned drinks and running outside. I asked them what they would like to do and they said "Go swimming!" I was tempted to let them go out to break the ice on our swimming pool just for the exercise!

It bothered me in 1984 that family in San Antonio was witnessing an historical weather event and I wasn't there! San Antonio with 15 inches of snow?! I am still looking for a framed painting of my hometown blanketed in snow…a picture of the Alamo preferably. Unfortunately, at the time, my 73 year old mother missed the snow as she was visiting in another city. She was in disbelief when she heard that the San Antonio river was covered with ice. It was a shock for those who had lived their entire lives there and had not experienced that kind of cold until that winter. If you have not yet experienced readings in the teens in South Texas lasting for days, it probably will happen again some winter down the road. Just like the days of 100 plus temperatures that just departed and good riddance! That's Texas. What's so predictable is that the weather here is so often unpredictable. I learned that one year when I was in a car with young children when a small tornado came through our neighborhood... a terrifying experience. If you live long enough you come to realize that nothing, including the weather, is under one's control. I can't change Texas weather and I could move to another part of the country but I don't plan on doing that either. I'm a sixth generation Texan and should be used to the extreme summer heat since we are supposed to be so tough, but I am not that tolerant of it the older I get...but here I stay. It was interesting for me to learn from my biological mother, during one of the only two conversations we had by phone in my adult years, that the ONLY thing she missed about Texas was the weather. My half sister who lives in northern California said that the one thing she missed about Texas was the warm rain! My oldest son and his family who live in the San Francisco bay area have no complaints about their lovely weather….the grand children would probably not like living in Texas when it is hot. Perhaps I should not ever complain about our weather but where else but Texas can one complain so much and get away with it?…it's a birthright! To my Weather Watcher friends…As my Daddy used to say: Keep an eye out on the weather and take care.

2 comments:

said...

Thank you thank you and did I say Thank you for sharing this story Sherrill. As a private citizen weather watcher and rain station for CocoRahs and NOAA this story has made my intire week if not the month already, LOL...I have so many more questions for you.. about the weather. would love to contact you by email...

said...

I am glad that you enjoyed the story.....sorry I have no answers about weather conditions! I am just an observer of many aspects of life. All I know is that weather effects our daily lives in one way or another. Hoping for cooler weather soon! Sherrill



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