TGIF: The weather never fails to create good conversation
Whenever a conversation lags, there’s always the weather.
How many times have I started a letter, or begun a telephone call, with family members when the weather wasn’t among the first things mentioned? It certainly hasn’t been every time, but it’s been often.
Sometimes, when I write or call, there’s no specific reason; it’s just to stay in touch. “There’s nothing wrong” is often the way our family starts a phone call, for example, because some of us are getting older. At other times, someone will add, “There’s nothing wrong; I just wanted to talk,” but topics aren’t easy to find. When all else fails, at least there’s the weather.
Maybe it’s been usually cold. Or unusually rainy. Or unusually hot. If there’s nothing like that going on, you can always talk about needing rain. We talk a lot about needing rain around here, but not lately. Our cup overflows.
Family and friends might be several states away, or maybe only across the street, but weather is one of the constants we all experience. It’s also a topic that never fails to fascinate, especially after what Texans have gone through this year.
When you include the deep freeze that paralyzed us in February, this has been a year of weather extremes — and it’s still only the month of May. Who knows what the summer will bring? And after that, you have to wonder what hurricane season might have in store.
People who work in the news media, as I did, have a special interest in this topic. The best weather comes on the days when the meteorologist gets to “phone it in” and announce continued clear skies and comfortable temperatures. Too often, though, the weather bumps the day’s politics and crime off the lead position and becomes the most important topic of the moment.
In Texas, the weather is especially active, and dangerous, during the season of spring. Through the years, some of the most destructive weather conditions have been experienced during the final weeks of May and first weeks of June. The collision of cool fronts with warm, moist conditions each spring doesn’t occur peacefully, but finally the summer conditions prevail, and the heat settles in.
My introduction to springtime Texas weather came during my first visit to Brownwood decades ago. That was over a Memorial Day weekend when I drove from New Mexico to visit the campus of Howard Payne (then) College. I stayed in Ballinger with friends of a family in our church. The Abilene television station they were watching that particular night interrupted programming repeatedly with warnings of tornadic conditions, which was not something I was accustomed to happening. The next day dawned to news of storm damage in Coleman and Brown counties, the two counties just east of Ballinger. The family I was staying with owned an insurance agency, and the man of the house rode with me to Brownwood to join other adjusters to survey damage. He rode home with one of his associates.
The storm system was active again that evening. As I drove west from Santa Anna after touring the college campus, I spotted an ominous cloud a few miles behind me in the car’s read-view mirror. It looked a lot like a funnel cloud, but I didn’t linger to make sure. I summoned all the horsepower my little car could muster and steered toward the sunset.
More recently, we were attending a wedding in Fort Worth when tornadoes damaged property around Canton.
Some of the worst weather our newspaper staff ever covered came during the weeks before and after Memorial Day. I recall a bad tornado in Coleman that took the lives of two people, and another storm that damaged airplanes at Brownwood’s airport. Then there was a near miss — a funnel cloud that danced around the hospital area — that sent our young family into the closet of the master bedroom. It’s the only time, and hopefully the last time, I’ve heard that trademark locomotive sound so often reported when a tornado passes.
My wife and I scooped up our preschool daughter from her bed, and we all crowded into the closet — the place nearest to the middle of the house that didn’t have windows. When the wind quit howling, we emerged to learn the funnel never touched down.
At bedtime the next evening, our daughter asked a question. She wondered if we were going to play in the closet again tonight. The answer, fortunately, was no.
Not every tornado warning leaves residents with a chuckle, so the “cry wolf” syndrome can come into play after repeated warnings don’t produce a storm. But at this time of year especially, we ignore warnings at own risk.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column “TGIF” appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.