The long summer of our discontent

The citgo sign is the only thing visible as fog settles over Fenway Park. Diehard Red Sox fans duck inside wearing rain parkas and sour faces. Temperatures hover in the 60s.

Perfect weather if you're a peanut hawker. "Tonight is a peanut night," says Nick Jacobs between frenzied sales of hot nuts. "When it's 90 degrees outside, fuhgeddaboudit, nobody wants nuts."

Mr. Jacobs grew up outside the legendary ballpark helping his father push nuts and can't recall a more rotten summer. "I remember some really hot summers, but this is weird. It's like fall already."

It's the summer of our discontent. The summer of soggy sweaters and bad-hair days, of raging wildfires and dried-up wells. Across America - whether too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry - the news is the same: Summer's on strike.

Everything's gone topsy-turvy. Beaches are empty, shopping malls are full, and Seattle (yes, Seattle) can boast the best weather in the country. Recent headlines tell the story: July in Washington, D.C., was the coolest since 1918; New Orleans was the driest on record; Wisconsin's summer 2000 will be recalled as a wet one.

Indeed, some meteorologists and scientists say the only thing predictable about weather today may be its unpredictability.

One reason for this summer's debacle is the changing path of the jet stream, the rivers of high-velocity wind moving from west to east. When the jet stream is displaced, areas that are usually sunny and warm are stormy and cloudy. Areas that are usually hot and dry are cool and wet.

"It's like [the East Coast] never got out of spring this year," says Jim Laver of the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Md. And get used to it, he adds, "we may not have an extended hot spell this summer."

The wacky weather is a global phenomenon. Parts of the Middle East, for example, are having their hottest summer in 50 years. While some tourists to East Coast cities - unable to change their plans - are grousing about the gray, Iris Hoffman is enjoying a break from the heat.

The Israeli woman grins as she and her family emerge from the Boston Tea Party gift shop.

"It's nice here. You can walk in the streets all day long and you don't sweat," she says. Nearby, a relative sucks on a red lobster lollipop and nods her head. Members of the family are bundled up in sweaters, umbrellas at their sides.

A French group of high-schoolers say they've had to change their plans in both Boston and New York. They had wanted to canoe Boston's Charles River, for instance.

Instead, persistent rain has forced them inside, visiting museums and aquariums.

All this weather confusion is upsetting the seasonal economy as well. Businesses reliant on good weather and strong tourism are suffering.

Harry Paterah grimaces when he talks about this summer's grand opening for his sandwich shop on Boston's South Shore. He picked Wollaston Beach because people are always out and about, "jogging, walking their dogs, catching the sun. But we haven't see it this year."

It's been a tough start, Mr. Paterah admits, but he's not willing to give up yet. The weather, it seems, is always changing - especially in New England.

Some theories for the displaced jet stream include El Nio and La Nia, global warming, and depletion of the ozone layer.

"Persistent cloudy weather in the East is due to the meandering jet stream," says Lewis Poulin, meteorologist with Environment Canada. "That's creating instability."

Mr. Poulin and family are vacationing in Boston on their way to Old Orchard Beach in Maine. They plan on staying in Boston longer because of the rainy weather, but refuse to change their beach plans.

"We'll get there, even if we have to buy wetsuits," says Poulin's wife, Linda Lines, outside the Children's Museum of Boston.

Poulin says the meandering jet stream is also responsible for keeping the Western half of the United States extra hot and dry, sparking further wildfires. Central Texas, for instance, has had 24 days of 100-plus temperatures this summer, with less than a half-inch of rain in some areas.

The heat is not unusual for Texas, says Bob Rose, a meteorologist for the Lower Colorado River Authority. But combined with a two-year drought, the weather has put major strains on water supplies.

In Andice, Texas, grass on A.C. Berry's 20 acres of grazing land has been gone for a month. He has been feeding his cattle hay just to get by. Up around Abilene, he has an additional 80 acres of cotton, which isn't likely to make it to harvest time.

"Back in 1967, my uncle told me, 'You'll have good years and bad years, and the good years far outweigh the bad ones,' " Mr. Berry says. But farming has changed, and a combination of dry weather and low commodity prices is forcing a lot of his neighbors out of the business. "People get so tired of fighting the weather."

The Pacific Northwest, though, is in an unusual state of sunny euphoria. Garit Reuble, a Seattle graphic designer, is spending all his free time outdoors, rollerblading around Green Lake or hanging out on Alki Beach: "It's been great .... And it's packed. What are all these people doing, skipping out of work early?"

Hmm, now how would he know that if he weren't doing the same?

*Scott Baldauf contributed to this report from Texas.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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