View from afar

“Hey, if you don’t like the weather now, wait five minutes and it will change.”

Knee-slapping humor like this may entertain visitors to Kansas and even get a forced laugh of agreement. But every rustic from Alice Springs in Australia to Capetown in South Africa uses the same line.

Hey, if you got more than one season, weather can change in five minutes.

My father was a weatherman of the old school. He learned to read the seasons before KAKE got Doppler Radar-actually he learned to read the weather before there was a KFH or a KAKE.

“When I was milking this morning I could hear the train coming through Aulne as though it was only a mile away-we are going to have rain.”

During a dry season he would check the springs at the creek and announce, “Well, the springs are trickling water-this drought won’t last much longer.”

The clarity of a sunset, a “sun dog,” the rings around the moon were all weather forecasts for him.

Growing up in Kansas, “storm cellars” were a family ritual. Mom and Dad would gather up the brood and announce it was time to take shelter as we tried to listen through the static of KFH for any news. Dad would then go out first and announce the all-clear.

Later, one becomes macho and refers to shelters as the “fraidy hole.”

When the devastating tornado of 1990 bore down on Hillsboro and the sirens were screaming, Dad told me, “Well, actually I went in the back yard to see it before I went in the basement with Vi.”

When I asked why he didn’t immediately take shelter as he had for eight decades he said, “You know, I’ve actually never seen a tornado up close and I thought at my age, how many more chances will I get?”

Sort of hard to argue with logic like that.

In Chicago, three weeks without the sun breaking through the Lake Michigan cloud banks is not unusual. It is little wonder that a New England homesteader who settled in Kansas noted in his ballad which became the state song: “Give me a home where the buffalo roam-And the skies are not cloudy all day.”

Kansas has at least a hundred more days of sunshine per year than does Chicago.

Of course, the New England balladeer later discovered that 100 consecutive days of sunshine equals drought and left Kansas.

Us Kansas boys who move to the city never lose our interest in weather. We mock Chicago weathermen who apologetically tell us, “Folks, it will rain on the weekend and spoil your picnics and golf outings.”

I scream out, “Hey Mister Weatherman, if every day is your good news of ‘no chance of rain’ this area becomes the Sahara desert and Lake Michigan will look like a Kansas farm pond in August.”

We know that rain is good news.

I am slowly joining the cult of folks who watch the Weather Channel with its 24-hour coverage of local and global weather. In a world of staged events, endless crisis and overwrought political punditry, there is serenity in knowing the temperature and precipitation reports from around the country and the world.

Today Kansas is balmy and bright-and I suspect my sister is drinking tea with friends on her deck and my brother is moving cattle to spring pastures.

West Virginia is having an early spring-Dan and Mary are enjoying the blooming of the dogwoods in their backyard.

Paris is rainy-and Brian will be carrying an umbrella as he shops the produce markets.

Boston is damp and chilly-Ben will bundle his kid up as he takes him on the subway to the day care center.

Weather is our most common and most honest experience of our shared life on this planet. For brief moments watching the Weather Channel, I share the experience with family and friends.

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