Everyone knows about the blue ‘norther. In fall, as the heat seems to be lingering one day too long, you look to the north. The southern wind grows stronger, then dies as a deep blue wall, so blue it may seem black, or tinged brown with dust, bears down on you from the north-northwest. Shoulders hunched, you hurry for cover or just brace and a north wind howls down, often bringing cold rain. Back in the days before radar and weather reporting, such storms “came out of the blue,” thus the name blue norther. The grey norther is . . . different.
The grey norther sweeps summer out of the High Plains. The first one usually comes in mid-to-late August, as the heat of summer feels unending and you dread the prospect of going places and seeing displays of winter coats and sweaters, corduroy and firewood. Then one afternoon, the hot southwest wind shifts southeast, pulling water out of the Gulf of Mexico and charging the air. People and other animals get twitchy, and old timers start thinking about rain buckets and bringing in loose gear, and reach for the denim jacket. The northers seem to come in the evenings, storms racing across the plains, the first thunder perhaps since June’s excesses. Trees sway, dancing to the north wind’s song and thunderous percussion.
And the sun rises grey. Heavy low clouds spitter drizzle into cold air. Yesterday was 95, today is 55 with a high of 65 (perhaps). Humidity brings up new smells and the north wind dashes bits of damp on your glasses and windshield. One August the grey norther tossed snowflakes into the mix, the joker. Heavy, dull-pewter clouds lumber across low skies and everything wants to sleep in, including you. Fall’s harbinger has come.
That night, or the next, the clouds thin and fade into crisp, cool, dry air. The stars dance brighter, and before dawn, Orion, winter’s herald, gleams above the eastern horizon.
The grey norther is a promise. Autumn will come. Heat returns, but it cannot last. More and more cold fronts will pour down, steered east of the Front Range and the Sangre de Christo Mountains to sweep the plains. The hot nineties will fade into the eighties, then the easy seventies, and at last the crisp, dancing sixties. Cider replaces ice tea, caramel apples ease aside ice-cream. The Tri-state Fair comes to Amarillo and people flock to look at animals and farm equipment, prize-winning preserves and quilts, and to ride rides and eat deep-fried-thing-on-a-stick and funnel cake. Summer has not left, not yet, but autumn and harvest and rest will come. So says the grey norther.