Spare Me the “S” Word

By Michael Leach

Alas! Once again it’s the season when weather predictions often include the four-letter “s” word. But there’s no cause for undue delight or despair.

This wee word, representing countless minute bits of frozen, white precipitation, is a subject celebrated in poems, lyrics, paintings, ski resort posters and greeting, cards. Yet it also appears in unflattering ways in ads touting warm, palmy places. The commercials generally switch from images of turquoise water and scanty swimwear on attractive bodies to a Dantesque nightmare of pale gray city streets awash with oily slush. Scattered in the gloom are hunched figures, swathed in mounds of drab coats and scarves, staggering against an arctic  gale.

This little word has divided Americans in northern areas far longer than political parties. Some love it, while others are rational and disdain it. I’ll grant the first snow transforms my garden into something of a living landscape painting. This view from the sunporch enhances morning coffee time and breaks between shoveling.

The ”s”  divide extends to weather forecasters. No matter how they attempt dispassionate predictions, It’s easy to tell who loves “s” and who doesn’t. Not so subtle clues give them away.

Those who can’t wait until the world becomes a floured mess are pixilated when the computer spews out parameters that include only the tiniest hint of “s”. From this, they paint scenarios maximizing the potential misery in terms of inches, duration and wind chill. Their lust for heavy frozen precip blinds them to the downsides: snarling traffic, slipping pedestrians and aching backs from shoveling. To be fair, there are a few winners, tow truck and plow drivers for instance. Oh, and let’s not forget that sales spike for heavy winter clothing to warm hunched figures in arctic gales.

The “s” enthusiasts put too much confidence in computer models. Sure, science tells about the inner workings of the atom, and Seri tells me where to go, but how about telling me what the weather will be 24 hours from now? Hmpf! It’s easier to predict the trajectory of a startled cat.

Such variability is especially true of winter weather. A wind gust here, a dry spot there, some 50-mile wobble in the path of a storm stretching across half the Midwest and voila! We can have an icy glaze or a few drops of rain or 12 inches of “s” or some combination of all the above or nothing. To put this in gardening terms — during a drought, would any of us  skip watering the wilting tomatoes when a 100 percent chance of an inch of rain is forecast? Not hardly. Such experience keeps panic at bay no matter how dire the weather prediction.

Plus, I’ve learned a coping mechanism that can help you regardless of your weather preferences. Check TV channels and scan weather websites to find a forecast echoing your desires. After discovering such a prediction, believe it. At least until something better comes along.

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