Weather in New England: Its always something

The weather in Santa Cruz has been so good recently that the Santa Cruz Sentinel printed an article about it.* We are having the Californian equivalent of Indian Summer, a warming trend that lasts a few weeks in the middle of an otherwise cold and dreary season. In New England it happens in the fall; here in Cal it happens in January or February. After an unusually cold and rainy December and early January, we are happily basking in the warm sunshine. My favorite line in the story was this: “We aren’t projecting any rain for [Santa Cruz] yet in the next 10 days, but things change quickly this time of year.” That really gave me a giggle.

Sorry, weather just doesn’t change that quickly out here. That’s why we like living on the central CA coastline. But, Californian’s are weather wimps. I knew I had become a Californian when I could no longer imagine living with New England’s excessive weather conditions. Back East, its always something: snow, oppressive heat and humidity, thunderstorms, blizzards, tornados, hurricanes, or even just overcast and crappy. Sunlight is a rare and precious phenomenon: in New England, when the sun is out, everyone makes a dash for the door. It becomes an instinct. After Charles and I moved out here, that instinct was slow to realize that the sun would be out tomorrow and the next day too. No need to panic. The weather doesn’t change that dramatically or that quickly.

Just compare the above weather gloat to the recent weather conditions in the northeastern part of the country, in particular, my home state CT. They have been ravaged by storm after storm after storm this winter season alone. Snow, ice, freezing rain, sleet, hail, thunder; blizzards, nor’easter’s, history-breaking snow fall. I look at all that weather and I marvel at the fortitude it takes to live with it.

To survive winter in the northeast (or any icy climate), you have to be willing to be very, very cold. You cannot be a wimp when you know you have to drive to work in a snowstorm or on black ice. You cannot be a wimp when you have to walk to school in knee-deep snow dressed in two pairs of socks, boots, flannel-lined jeans, tee-shirts, sweaters, jackets, scarves, hats, and gloves. You cannot be a wimp to even play in the snow: to ski down mountains, skate on frozen streams, slide down hillsides on sleds, toboggans, or scraps of waxed cardboard, to hike through woods, build snow forts, get hit by snowballs—it takes fortitude.

Winter in Essex, CT

If you are willing to put up with precipitation on 1 out of every 3 days, 140 days of clouds, 20-30 days worth of thunderstorms, regularly occurring tornados and hurricanes, temperatures ranging from below zero to over 100, and if you can put together completely separate wardrobes for each season, you also enjoy the benefits of New England’s rapid-change climate.

In winter, the magic and wonder of the sights, scents, and sounds of fresh snow fall on your street, right outside your door, is a delight. No matter where you live, snow makes everything fresh and beautiful even if only for one day. Playing in the snow can be a joyous experience and for kids an opportunity for invention. Winter is the time for a distinctive New England treat, Sugar On Snow. Thick, hot maple syrup is ladled over bowls of fresh, clean snow where it becomes a sticky taffy. When I had it in Brattleboro as a girl, it was served with a plain donut and a slice of dilled pickle which created a strangely compatible taste sensation. But you can’t produce maple syrup without cold weather.

As Mark Twain said of spring in New England, “I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.” Dramatically changing weather conditions and seasonality keep you on your guard; its not something you can ignore. Weather, in fact, isn’t just something that happens around us: it is a powerful sensory experience that locates us to particular places and times. Weather conditions give rise to cultural behaviors and attitudes. Local identity is then tied to those conditions: ask a New Englander what makes them a New Englander and they will point to two things: ancestry and weather.

Our current Indian Summer in Cal will kick off a host of activities. The paper predicts “6- 10-foot waves predicted at Steamer Lane” a world class surf spot in SC. Waves and temp are so good they might be able to hold Mavericks Big Wave Invitational up the coast, an international competition that is dependent on local ocean conditions. Not only that, but the warm temps are encouraging the monarch butterflies out of their eucalyptus trees along the coastline making for great viewing. Snow in New England brings out the skiers, skaters, and sledders, and the builders of snow creatures and shelters.

* “Window of sun amid wet season” by Tovin Lapan, SC Sentinel, Tue. 1/18/11 B1

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