Talking and talking about weather

When my wife and I decided to move to northeastern Vermont, we expected weather in the style of Vivaldi. Four distinct movements with lots of passages marked fortissimo, especially in the "Winter" movement. Winter, after all, was the one subject that all our friends raised when we explained our plans. We began to suspect their questions were covert checks on our sanity.

In descending order we were asked: Do you like snow that much? So you ski, right? Are you getting a four-wheel-drive car? Isn't that close to Canada? And my blunt favorite: Do you really like being cold?

Our answers: Yes, if I don't have to shovel or commute; No, I'm from Oklahoma; No (repented of a year later); Yes; and, with feeling, No! How do you explain an impulsion that has no meteorological logic? Maybe the angels we entertained unawares were snow angels.

We knew something was different when we tuned into Vermont Public Radio and, over breakfast cereal at 8:05, heard a cheery voice chime, "Good morning! From the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury, Vt., welcome to today's edition of 'An Eye on the Sky!' "

For the next several minutes a certified meteorologist, not one of your urbane rip-and-read weather jocks, told us the weather that was ours yesterday, the present conditions, that which was to come, and why it must be so, all cross-referenced with places we couldn't place.

These were weather reports that invited conversation between the lines, as in:

"An Eye on the Sky": Yesterday's rainfall averaged 0.5 inches in the upper Champlain Valley, but only trace amounts fell in the area east of the Greens toward the White Mountains, except in Coos County, N.H., where showers popped up....

He: Sweetie, why do we need to hear yesterday's weather? Were not most of us here when afternoon showers popped up? Do we need to know the overnight low in Victory, or how much rain fell in Winooski?

She: You're pontificating again and missing the music of it all. Pipe down a second, I want to hear the forecast.

He: Music? Which forecast? I think he's on the second of the usual three, and we don't understand any of them.

AEOTS: Presently in eastern sectors of our listening area, a cyclonic northerly flow is upslope, and a plume of cold air is being invected toward the St. Lawrence Valley....

She: Exactly. It's like the second movement of a symphony.

He: I love symphonies, but....

She: Shhhh! This is the real forecast.

[The sound of rapt listening]

He: We just need to know whether to cover the tomatoes. [To the radio.] Please just tell us: Will there be frost tonight?

AEOTS: And this note for the gardeners out there. If you live in one of the higher-elevation locales and away from a warming body of water, you may want to cover the more tender vegetables tonight. Cabbage, chard, and some lettuces can easily take a light frost....

She: See? Music and the poetry of tender vegetables. Think we should cover the tomatoes?

He: Exactly my question.

Uncertain exactly where we were in the weather picture, I covered the tomatoes. No frost formed on our garden beds. But just downstream on an exposed bank above the river, the squash vines and eggplants at Peaslee's Farm were frost-wilted when we dropped in to buy pumpkins. Another microclimate insight nailed by Steve and Mark, the "Eye on the Sky" guys.

Frequent fliers on VPR's airwaves will have detected two distinct meteorological voices in those edited samples. The opening riffs of applied science and linguistic relish were from Steve Maleski's reports. Steve is surely one of the few weathercasters who could inspire requests for program transcripts. Did I miss the nuances when he predicted copious rainfall from embedded showers? Will lurking convective debris precipitate poem fragments in my journal?

Steve's reports also challenge us to think beyond our borders. Your weather is ours, too. The dome of high pressure that sprawled over Texas all last summer never came close to crossing the Adirondacks, but your plight was ours, daily.

If Steve as a painter would be a Photorealist, his colleague Mark Breen is the Impressionist. Oh sure, Mark the meteorologist gives the usual numbers and three-day forecasts, but he also paints the bold colors and violet shadows of any given day.

Yet unlike Monet, in Mark's word-pictures are signs of everyday human life, real people who have real gardens. Farmers thinking about that last hay-cutting. Skiers and milk-tanker drivers tracking snowstorms for their peculiar reasons. Me wondering if I'll see sun before December. Mark cares about all of us, and those tender vegetables.

My complaints about weather-talk radio have faded like river mist on a sunny morning. This isn't Seinfeldian talk about nothing. The "Eye on the Sky" is a confluence of science and art. Steve and Mark look at the same sky, and one sees a nimbo-cumulus buildup suggesting a major moisture event, the other a cluster of Holsteins on a hillside beginning to rumble for the barn.

If songwriter Paul Simon ever needs a refuge from the bright lights and harsh reviews of New York, he might want to join the stream of taillights heading up the Taconic Parkway for this experiment in differentness called Vermont. After all, Simon once sang, "I get the news I need on the weather report."

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