By Art Railton, from his ‘Just a Thought’ columns, as published in the Vineyard Gazette editions of October, 1991:
I’m a television weather buff, a compulsive channel switcher, trying to find out for sure what tomorrow’s weather will be. I just can’t get enough of those satellite shots. And no wonder. After 20 minutes of fires in a Pawtucket three-decker, or a car wrapped around a tree in Kingston, or a half-dozen Boston detectives gloating over a $1 million drug haul, I relish something cheerful.
And weathermen (oops! weatherpersons) are cheerful. When the forecast is rosy, they smile for us. When it’s dreadful, they smile even more, for themselves. The worse the weather, the broader the smile. But they always smile.
They have the world at their fingertips. They push a button and instantly, in brilliant color, we see this wondrous globe as it looks from space. It even has the state boundaries on it! A view of our planet that Croesus would have swapped all his gold for. And today it’s just a throw-away line for The Weatherman.
If there’s a cloud anywhere, it’s right over the Vineyard. It’s due to something called a Bermuda high, a huge H out over the Atlantic that does strange things to our weather.
It’s a kissing cousin to those back-door cold fronts that are always hovering menacingly over the Canadian Maritimes. Between them and those Bermuda highs, tomorrow’s weather is too close to call. We had better tune in at 11 o’clock to find out what kind of a day it will be. Our friendly Weatherperson will keep a close eye on it, poring over his charts, photos and that exclusive Chatham radar until 11 o’clock and then he’ll tell us. He’s backed up by enough electronic gear to run a space program. Just don’t miss the 11 o’clock news.
The weather vane used to tell us tomorrow’s weather. An east wind meant it was going to rain. A southwesterly would bring fair skies. Not anymore. Now, in the weather station, telephones are always ringing, printers crank out pages and pages of data, the fax machines are humming. And on a gallery of video screens, all kinds of maps are on display. Forget that weather vane business. This is high-tech.
But I must get back to the TV screen. Tomorrow’s forecast is coming on and I want to be sure it isn’t going to rain on my daughter’s wedding. It’s not easy to sort out. There’s that high pressure over the Great Lakes and the warm front coming up from the Gulf. That means trouble, especially at this time of year, when the days are getting short and the nights long. And the leaves are falling. And then there’s that Bermuda high to contend with.
And far over here, at the right of the screen off the coast of Africa, a tropical disturbance is in the making. It’s not anything to worry about at the moment, but winds in the center have been clocked at 150 miles an hour. And it’s moving in our direction at six miles an hour, so it’s a threat. But don’t worry, not just yet. The Weatherman is keeping an eye on it. Tune in tonight at eleven for the latest coordinates.
In the meantime, here’s the national map, with its temperature data, puffy clouds, bolts of lightning and drops of rain. Warm fronts and cold fronts are all tangled up in a confused mess. There’s a batch of raindrops over Oregon. It’s always raining there. And a bright golden ball over Arizona where the sun is always shining. But here in New England, confusion.
The confusion gets worse when he pushes the button and the fast-moving jet stream snakes across. If it swings up our way, all bets are off. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Next we run through the pollen count, the air-quality index, followed by the high and low tides, plus dew points and barometer readings.
By this time I feel like a failing student in meteorology. All I want is tomorrow’s weather. I used to get it from the ear on the upper right-hand corner of the daily paper, but now I have to sit through a crash course in meteorology. (“Just a reminder, folks, that the planets are now in juxtaposition and that if you look in the southeast sky at 3:45 tomorrow morning, you’ll see Jupiter and Venus. It’s a once-in-a-decade phenomenon. Don’t miss it.”)
Finally, the forecast. It comes with a dazzling display of electronic pizzazz. Some forecasts come on like Superman, starting as a tiny speck (is it a bird? a plane? no, it’s a forecast!), then zipping forward at the speed of light to fill the screen. Others flip upside down and backwards like gymnasts. Others start as scattered jigsaw puzzle pieces that miraculously fall into place. It’s all very theatrical. And bewildering.
Just about now, my wife calls from the kitchen.
“What’s the weather going to be tomorrow for Janet’s wedding?”
Suddenly, I draw a blank. I’ve been told enough to fill a loose-leaf notebook, but what did he say about tomorrow on the Cape?
“I don’t know, honey,” I respond meekly, “I must have missed it, but it’s going to be raining in Oregon.”
Compiled by Eulalie Regan