The Governing Weather of Summer June 13, 2010Posted by Mark Folse in 504, hurricane, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Here in New Orleans the solstice is truly Midsummer. As early as May the governing weather of summer is upon us with all the weight of the planets, guiding our choices toward the shade and the restful, but we are a contrary folk and while I might have enough sense to work in the yard before glare of midday, still I stood on the corner of Frenchman and Royal last Saturday night and watched the Young Fellaz Brass Band drive another band from the opposite corner by pure power of sound and danced until I was as sleekly wet as a seal. My wife, who would normally not approve, didn’t care a bit that I had completely unbuttoned my rayon shirt and bared my chest. The atmosphere was a palpable thing on my body, running in rivulets down to my shuffling feet and into the street, the only movement in the air our bodies and the sounds that drove us into this senseless frenzy when a more temperate people would be still.
Not yet Midsummer’s Night and we have months ahead of red weather. We will drink more beer than modern American medicine thinks good for us (and outlive them to prove them asses), tending the fires in our grills beneath richly speckled Creole sausages, dousing the fatty flames with a spurt from a shaken bottle. We will drive out the evil vapors of last night’s cocktails by starting the weed whacker much too early for some of the neighbors, who may curse us but will then rise up themselves and get to the yard work before the sun boils the mercury in the window thermometer. Come the Fourth of July we will stand in the mosquito thick, coffee-hot dark breeze of the levee to cool ourselves and to better view the fireworks. August will weigh down upon us like the responsibility of empire on Caesar’ shoulders and we will still stand on the blistering cement of the French Market for Satchmo Fest if we are to late to claim a bit of shade.
We are, in a word, accustomed to where we live. I spent almost 10 years in Fargo, North Dakota and small-town Northwest Minnesota. My first year in the small down of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota I had a long sunken driveway and a cranky, (very) used Monkey Ward snow blower. When the plows came around the corner my drive was the first break in the curb for 100 feet and they would dump an immense amount of slushy avalanche snow that would freeze into a wall two feet high in the driveway I just cleared. By the end of that year, I was lifting snow over my head at the mouth of the driveway (keeping in mind how snow settles and compacts). And I stuck, as they say up there. There were compensating virtues to the place, and humans are adaptable enough to range from the edge of the Arctic ice to the vast Sahara and Gobi deserts.
Last night we went to dinner at someone’s house, and as we sat around after sipping a beer and admiring the massive bank of windows along one wall of their house we inevitably got onto storm shutters. We’re well into June and while the start of hurricane season is mostly ceremonial, a time for the weathermen to read the auguries to everyone congregated around the television, to recite the names of this year’s storms, and the signs are not good the augurs tell us. The Atlantic is exceedingly warm, our host reminded us and El Niño is taking the year off. Our host recited the official forecast: 14 to 23 Named Storms including 8 to 14 Hurricanes of which 3 to 7 could be Major Hurricanes.
Even as we went off into the common topic of evacuation stories and stay-versus-leave, his wife wasn’t interested in hearing the numbers. “I’m not borrowing trouble,” she told him, and I agree. Long range weather forecasting is as much art as science, a series of assumptions fed into the historical statistics and computer models that are themselves a mix of past performance and assumptions, mixed with the current sea temps along the Intertropical Convergence Zone (and if you live down there, you know it by that name and not, say, as The Horse L attitudes). Like gambling at the stockbroker’s or the track, it is as much about initial assumptions as it is past performance and if you’re wrong, you tear up the ticket on you way to get a beer.
This morning I go back to confirm the numbers and read the names for this year’s storms and I find a map of the South Atlantic with a big orange circle, the message below it in telegraphic CAPITALS telling us of a disturbance spinning toward the Cape Verde Islands. A medium chance, it tell us, of becoming a tropical cyclone during the next 48 hours. It’s begun.
I know the general trends well enough to understand that a storm in June isn’t much to worry about, just as we know the storms of late September and October will spin up the East Coast, just as we know Katrina was that once in a generation storm we were all raised to expect. Still we can’t resist looking, re-familiarizing ourselves with the cryptic jargon of the forecasters, wondering when the first disturbance will enter the GOM*, when that The Clash song will start hammering in our heads. For all their research and supercomputers and a lifetime of art the forecaster’s can’t tell us what we’ll be doing in August or September, but I can. Come August, we will go to Satchmo Fest and send my daughter off to college and get my son ready for his sophomore year of high school. I will thank Ogoun that it has not rained and the grass is brown, will break a cigarette and sprinkle some tobacco onto the soil as I daily water the plants in thanks for one less task in the dank afternoon, will retreat into the shade of the fan-cooled porch when I am done, will submit myself to the governing weather of summer as before a jealous and merciful god because it’s what the chosen people do as the price of the land of milk and honey.
*Gulf of Mexico