A few weeks ago, the National Weather Service issued its 2010-2011 Winter Outlook. The NWS’s sage predictions for Kansas? “[E]qual chances of above-near-or below normal temperatures and precipitation.” Now that’s insight!
People who know me know that I have a heightened fascination with Midwestern weather. One of my colleagues told me that I’m the only person she knows who talks about the weather as much as her grandmother. Ever since I was a little girl, I was incredibly fascinated with thunderstorms, rain, hail, and the energetic and foreboding atmosphere created by giant dark clouds rolling across the undulations of Kansas topography. In fact, while living in California, I found myself grumbling about the hot, relentless sun, and the grittiness that comes from day after day without rain.
Nestled between the Rockies and the Gulf of Mexico, the Plains’ wide open spaces are the perfect breezeway for cold, dry air from Canada, warm dry air from the Southwest, and warm, moist air from the Gulf, creating some of the most magnificent, destructive, and awe-inspiring storms anywhere in the world.
When the U.S. government began to allow settlement of the Plains in the mid- to late-1800s, the newcomers had no real understanding of how much the weather could help or hinder their existence. Native Americans had roamed the Plains for centuries, but Europeans didn’t have the historical connection to the area nor an inkling the potentially destructive power the weather could wield. If I can write just one lesson learned in both David Laskin’s The Children’s Blizzard and Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time, it is that the ecology and weather patterns of the Plains are bigger than all of us. We can stock our cars with blankets, water, and kitty litter, we can keep weather radios on hand, we can watch for rising water. But we can’t change the weather. The cold, dry air coming from the north and the hot, humid air coming from the Gulf have their own destiny to fulfill. We can only react to it.
For several years, the chant of the populous was that it “doesn’t snow the way it did when we were kids. ” But last year, we had an honest-to-gosh blizzard at Christmas. Drifts six feet tall blew along Commercial Street, closing down the entire city for almost two days. So what will this winter bring? Maybe it will be like last year. Maybe we’ll get more snow. Or maybe we’ll have less.