Saturday, January 29, 2005

The White Stuff

Just a short posting today; the weatherman has forcast snow for this afternoon and I am fighting the urge to go to the store and buy white products -- milk, bread, eggs, toilet paper, liquid paper, etc.. For some reason I can't entirely explain, when snow is forcast in the Carolinas the residents develop an irresistable craving for white goods. I can feel the tug of our local Harris Teeter supermarket as I write but I will try to hold out for a paragraph or two.

My best guess about this phenomenon is a craving for certainty. In the Piedmont area meteorologists are generally unable to predict the weather during the winter -- at least, not the weather that anyone cares about. Our cold air comes from the north and is too dry by the time it gets here for percipitation. Our moist air comes up from the Gulf of Mexico and is generally too warm to freeze. The way we get winter weather here is for air masses of both types to collide over our heads, usually with a low pressure area to stir them together. It happens occasionally but its damnably hard to predict. On winter days when the weatherman is predicting everything but hurricanes, people head to the store and buy white products to try to firm up the forcast with sympathetic magic.

A couple of weeks ago we got an inch of snow that nobody predicted. Schools and businesses closed early, creating an instant traffic jam on the icy streets that made the national news. The city workers who operate the salt and sand trucks were out picking up leaves and christmas trees when the snow started and couldn't get to the salt trucks. They were stuck in the traffic snarl caused by the hundreds of accidents as people played bumper-cars on the unsalted, unsanded, unscraped roads. The father of a work aquantance left at noon that day to pick up his granddaughter when he heard that the schools were closing. He lives about 15 miles from the school and he and his granddaughter got home at one in the morning. He was stuck in traffic for twelve hours in a thirty-mile trip. Several schools in Wake County NC never got the students home. The busses couldn't get out and the parents couldn't get to the schools. The students , staff and faculty all spent the night at the schools and the 3000 students didn't get home until about noon the next day. All from one inch of snow.

The AP report alludes to the problems with predicting the weather in this part of North Carolina.

Police handled more than 1,000 accidents, none fatal, and some people were caught in traffic jams that left them on the roads for more than eight hours. Buses were unable to take children home from school, stranding the students in their classrooms with their teachers overnight. Some motorists who could not get home bunked with others in office buildings and even grocery stores.

"This is embarrassing for my profession," a contrite WRAL-TV chief meteorologist Greg Fishel told viewers during the height of the chaos. "In the 24 years I've lived here, I have never encountered the traffic situation I saw today."

But he was not alone. None of the television meteorologists made the right call, evoking memories of December 2002, when they failed to predict the severity of an ice storm that plunged much of the Carolinas into darkness for more than a week.
The AP story finishes with forcasts for not one, but two winter storms for the upcoming week.

Even as Wednesday's problems melted away, though, more snow was on the way. And this time, forecasters were making sure not to downplay the threat.

The first round was forecast to fall between late Thursday and early Friday. "It'll be over by morning and we'll have time to assess things before the morning commute," said National Weather Service (news - web sites) meteorologist Mike Moneypenny.

The weekend, however, looked grim, with sleet and snow predicted to fall in freezing temperatures Saturday and into Sunday.
Needless to say, neither of the forcast storms materialized. Thursday and friday were a bit drizzly and dreary but not particularly cold. The weekend, as I recall, was rather nice.

Today's forecast calls for snow at sleet with an ice storm tonight. My friend Calvin has cancelled a party he was going to have so it undoubtedly will be warm, clear and dry.

But, nonetheless, I cannot resist the lure of the white items at the grocery store any longer.

Must... Buy... MILK. Must... get... Pepperidge... Farm... ORIGINAL... White... Bread.... Must... get... a... grip... ... ...

Ok, it's passed for now.
But I still gotta go to the grocery store. It occurs to me that marshmallows are white. Maybe if I buy marshmallows the weatherman will be right this time.


Thursday, January 13, 2005

Books the Spoil You for Other Books

A recent post on Sunbreak City contains a list of books so good they spoil you for other books. I was intrigued because he listed Bulgakov's Master and Margarita which is an incandescently brilliant book and a particular favorite of mine. It set me to thinking what I would put on my list of such books and I found it difficult to formulate one.

Mostly it is hard to find books with the correct degree of obscurity. Tolkein's Ring trilogy are that good, I think, but a Google search finds almost ten million references to them so there is little use mentioning them. What is there to say that hasn't been said? G. K. Chesterton's Napoleon of Notting Hill, on the other hand, is a particular favorite but might be too obscure. His Man Who Was Thursday is also good and is just about the right degree of obscurity. It seems to me that people who like Bulgakov ought to like Chesterton -- both men were fascinated by ironies and paradoxes and both were elegant writers.

The first thing that came to mind, actually, Chesterton's epic poem, The Ballad of the White Horse, but the posting specified novels.

I hesitate to mention Atlas Shrugged since people have such strong opinions about it (especially, for some reason, people who have never read it.) Rand's Fountain Head is, I think, a better book from a literary point of view but it lacks much of Atlas Shrugged's ability to do things to your head.

There are newer books that may well be that good but one can't know which they are until one has had a few decades to gain perspective.