Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Weather or Not

I’ve had more conversations about the weather this year than I’ve had in all of my previous years combined. It’s always safe to talk about the weather of course, and here in Alabama it’s a universal pastime whenever small talk is called for, but this year it’s actually interesting.

For starters, it snowed four times this winter. I’ve lived here for 33 years, and I can count the good snowfalls on one hand. So, four snows in one winter is news in Alabama. The snowfalls started on Christmas Day and progressed with bigger and better snows twice in January. Then, in early February, snow was in the forecast again and yet on the appointed day, the morning was sunny and bright. We’re always skeptical about snow in the forecast here in Alabama. We’ve believed the hype and suffered disappointment too many times. But, our intrepid weather men had gotten it right three times this season already, so I was inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I was out in the car running errands around 10:00, and I watched in amazement as an advancing overhead blanket of grey moved up from the south. By the time I got home at lunchtime, grey covered the sky and it started to feel like snow. Then, as the day went on, it turned sunny again, then grey, then sunny. I worried that it was just a tease. But dark moist clouds kept moving up from the Gulf in relentless waves. The ground was already deep-chilled; it had been cold for weeks. The waves of grey kept coming and as the sun started going down, it got even colder. When the big grey blanket settled overhead and released its moisture, the frigid air zapped the big warm droplets just like magic.

At 6:00, while I was walking from a parking lot to a special family gathering at a restaurant, it began to snow fat, fluffy snowflakes. At dinner, we faced a big picture window and watched the swirling snow coat the trees with frosting as night fell. The pristine hush of new snow made the evening even more special. By the time I drove back to Shelby County, there were blizzard conditions for several stretches along the way. This was my idea of a snowstorm. Well done, Alabama. Snow, for the fourth time in one winter! It was definitely something to talk about.

Then all of a sudden, it was spring for a day. Then it was spring for another day and another. February hadn’t even thought about ending yet, and the air started to warm and sweeten.

Now the talk really started in earnest, and I confess, I instigated a lot of it. “What do you think about this weather we’ve been having?” The barista at Starbucks shook her head and said, “It’s totally random.” The grocery bagger at Publix said, “Alabama, the bi-polar state.”

“Do you think we’ll have another freeze?” I queried. My neighbor who works outside and is an observer of weather said, “No. We’re done.” He went through some fancy verbal calculations referencing winters I had no recollection of, and he sounded like he knew what he was talking about. The check-out woman in the garden center at Wal-Mart said, “We’ll have a hard freeze before Easter.” She’s an old-timer here in Shelby County and she’s seen lots of Alabama weather, so she sounded like she knew what she was talking about too.

Today, just two weeks into March, the pear trees are in full bloom and the redbuds are out. The tulip trees are more fragrant than I ever remember them being. Daffodils, forsythia and camellias are all blooming as early and fresh and abundant as you please.

But it isn’t Easter yet. The jury is still out on another freeze. I remember an outrageous snowstorm one April. It could happen, people. And yet, I’m hopeful that this gift of an early spring will continue. Springtime is akin to a natural resource here in Alabama. We can’t market it, but we can surely celebrate it, and it’s one thing we all agree upon.

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