The High Plains of Texas woke to low grey skies and cool temperatures. At ten AM it was still only 68 in the Amarillo city limits, with a light, chilly breeze trickling through the trees. The birds slept in, as did your humble hostess. (I was recovering from playing extrovert at Ama-Con. I don’t vert well.) The Grey Norther has arrived, breaking summer’s back.
Readers new to my blog may be wondering what on Earth I’m talking about. After all, people who live on the Great Plains, or who have read the Little House Books and a few others have heard of Blue Northers, the ferocious cold fronts that slam down from Canada and the Dakotas, heralded by a dark blue line of clouds to the north and west that turns into a blue wall and sweeps the warm air out of its way, often dropping temperatures by 20-30 degrees in an hour or two. It chases geese and other birds ahead of it, and drives cattle and men to seek shelter.
However, over the mumble mumble years I’ve lived on the High Plains, I’ve observed that in most years, in August, a strong cold front comes through that drops temperatures a little less dramatically. Instead of the hard blue wall, it usually, but not always, arrives with thunder storms, then covers the sky in heavy grey clouds and cool temperatures. It may linger in the ’60s until noon, or later. One year, it actually dropped a few flakes of snow, just to confirm that yes, it really was that cold out and it wasn’t your imagination. That year, the summer wind had winter teeth. Once, when I was down in Lubbock, I managed to time wandering the Lake Lubbock Site with the Grey Norther. It was in the 50s and I had the place to myself. Something about stinging 35 MPH north winds and misty rain kept the smart folks indoors, which probably explained why I had such a lovely time strolling around outdoors. It had been in the mid 90s the day before.
This year, the dramatics swept through on Saturday, with a storm line that dropped a tenth of an inch on the house in six minutes, but missed most of the city north of I-40. However, the skies were striking as we trooped out of Ama-Con, blues and greys with dark rain pillars to the north and west. Sunday brought slightly cooler temps and mostly cloudy skies. Monday, the clouds seemed glued to the ground and the cool air trickled in through open windows. It didn’t really carry much scent, not like storm-rains and outflow wind.
The greens looked greener and darker, full of life and health. The flat light faded the flowers, although the pastel roses sang out. They are gathering their second wind, getting ready to bloom again before the first frost. Those that suffered from grasshoppers while I was gone are recovering, enjoying the moisture and cooler weather as they leaf out again, trying to make up for lost time. At ten, the birds were still loafing, as was I, but the neighbor’s kittens were racing around, making a commotion in the little hedge in front of my office and annoying Athena T. Cat.
The sky grew dark around 1500, the clouds sank lower, tattered on the edges, and a low growling sound snarled down from the northwest. The wind whooshed down the street, colder than before, and I closed the north-facing windows enough to keep rain out. The temperature fell with the rain, shedding ten degrees in a few minutes. Rain pattered down, never excessively heavy but enough to add a half-inch or so to the year’s totals over two hours. The rain faded away, leaving the steady drip, drip, spatter of the trees shedding water and dark skies. Headlights shone blue-white in the sunless afternoon.
There’s a sense of relief in the air. The native plants are recovering, enjoying the recent rains. The animals and birds are not panting but resting. Outdoor work feels easier, even though it is humid. Summer’s heat will return. Everyone knows this, it always does. August leaches into September and the Tri-State Fair and football season. But the heat’s back is broken. There’s a promise in the Grey Norther, a promise that autumn is not all that far away. The days are shorter, the sun easing to the south, and cooler weather will return. The sweet wine of autumn has been bottled and is aging, ready for October. The Grey Norther is a faint whiff, the teasing stolen drop of the flavor of fall.
Summer comes back tomorrow. But it knows its time is passing. The Dog Star is visible at dawn.