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Looking at clouds from both sides

2018 08 11 billowBy David Hawke -- A trait shared by both weather forecasters and creative writers is the ability to accentuate the mundane, embellish the boring, until it becomes quite exciting.

To be a creative writer one does not need to be a weather forecaster, but to forecast the weather one does need a good aptitude for creative thinking.

          This can be seen daily in any forecast: “Tomorrow morning will have a 10-percent chance of showers, turning to 30-percent by afternoon.” In other words, dear reader, there is a 90-percent chance of sunshine in the morning, and despite the possibility of a few clouds floating in later on, still a 70-percent probability of continued sunshine!

So why the accent on the negative? Even though the day will be gloriously sunny, the small threat of rain takes precedence within the forecast, as if trying to shake your smug confidence in enjoying your vacation. Seems to me this negative-first system must have invented by some dour Scot whose clan motto is “Don’t enjoy the good stuff because sooner or later you’ll pay for it” (I can say this as a good part of my heritage is dour Scot).

The other part of creative weather forecasting is to make it sound so much worse than it really is: “A gentle breeze will waft about the countryside, occasionally being punctuated by damaging gusts of wind.” Therefore, don’t fall asleep in that hammock, dear vacationer, as you could wake up on the other side of Lake Simcoe! Oh sure, you can lay there, but be ever vigilant for that rogue gust… it can come out of nowhere! At any time! Never let your guard down, especially while on a relaxing vacation.

As we all well know, this summer has been wickedly hot, and oft heard are the good old sayings “Hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk,” or “Must have been 104 in the shade.” Unfortunately, I believe Health Canada now prohibits the frying of eggs on sidewalks, and 104 degrees Fahrenheit is actually only 40 degrees in Celsius, and thereby loses a lot of verbal impact in the translation. May I suggest "Hot enough to melt your plastic-paper money"? No? Okay, you come up with something better.

Are weather forecasters happy giving us dire warnings of temperatures in the high 20s or even mid-30s? Nope, they feel we must have more drama in the daily report. So, in 1965, we Canadians came up with a system to make hot temperatures sound even more miserable, a thing called the Humidex (which sounds like a Superman archvillain to me, but then I wasn’t asked to be on the naming committee).

The Humidex ranking is based on a combination of air temperature in the shade and the humidity (or amount of moisture) in the air. Our human bodies have adapted to keep our inner selves at a more or less constant 38 degrees Celsius. This level of interior heating is optimum for destroying most fungal infections yet low enough to allow our body to metabolize the food we take in. When our body temperature rises above this magical level, we get feverish and cannot perspire fast enough to cool the body.

What all this medical talk means is that when the outside of your body is warmer than the inside, you feel sick. And that sums up the way most of us felt the last couple of weeks when the Humidex regularly approached 40 degrees! Of course, it probably wouldn’t have felt quite that bad had the Humidex scale not been invented… we would have just thought that, "Wow it seems hot for 32 degrees." Silly us.

The other thing about weather is that it happens all year long, which provides good employment opportunities for weather forecasters. But what happens when the temperatures are low and the dreaded Humidex can’t be used to scare weather listeners? Ah, that’s when the wind chill index comes into play.

Wind chill is a combination of air temperature and wind speed, with the resultant number being how cold you’d think it was if standing naked atop a snow bank. Minus 10C with a gusty wind (there’s that awful ‘gust’ brought into play again) makes you think it’s minus 20C, even though it’s actually just minus 10. But, if you are standing naked atop a snow bank, I don’t think you really care about these finer points of weather prognostication anyways; you probably have other things on your mind, like, "How did I get here?".

There should be a t-shirt manufacturer that can print up snappy slogans on a whim, with red and yellow colored wiggly lettering that says, “I survived Humidex 38!” or for the foolishly brave: “Humidex 41… bring it on!”.

Writers of the creative bent are allowed certain freedoms in their craft, their ability to embellish being an enviable trait to be emulated by those who follow their every keystroke. Thankfully, these writers do not regularly submit weather forecasts, or we’d end up with stories like: “Overnight, as you slumber peacefully, large cylindrical orbs of hydrogen and oxygen will stratify the area where you live; accompanying this liquid coverage of the earth will be gusts… woe, the gusts!”

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a nap on the hammock, even if there is a 3-percent chance of torrential rain… I think I can risk it.

© 2018 David J. Hawke

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Tuesday, 26 May 2020

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