Droughts and Freezes

Both of them wear on you, after a while. Back when I was flying air ambulance, we happened to pass over a local river that wasn’t what it had once been, in terms of flow (irrigation + upstream dams + upstream town). We started speculating as to what would be required to put the river back to brim-full level. The flight nurse opined that we probably wouldn’t want to be in the neighborhood when that happened. The EMT and I agreed. Talk then turned to storms and droughts. Which was worse to deal with – a tornado outbreak, or a drought?

Smart people say “none of the above, thank you!” Granted, people in Tornado Alley look at the Gulf Coast and wonder why anyone lives there in hurricane season. Gulf Coast people shake their heads at folks who insist on living in the upper Midwest and Northern Plains year-round. Everyone looks at California (shake, bake, roast, flood) and sighs, “You poor b-stards.” It’s all what you get used to.

I detest droughts. They wear on me, gnawing at my peace of mind. There’s brown and then there’s brown, and the latter makes me twitchy. Drought means water limits and fires. It means slow suffering for animals, and drying crops and native plants. It means that brush and cactus and yucca invade grasslands. Dust storms billow up, at best turning the sky brassy tan and leaving a sense of grittiness on you when you come indoors. At worst the sky turns red, static electricity fills the air, and you can’t tell come-here from sic-’em. Add a rolling blackout to that and you sit in red darkness as the temperature climbs and you can’t do much of anything indoors, let alone outdoors.

Cold also wears on you, stealing energy. Even when I was dressed for it, working out in -20F weather was wearying. Things took longer to do, because of the extra precautions you needed to keep an irritation from turning into a $10,000 “oops.” Or worse. Driving in extreme cold keeps you wondering “what if I break down? What if I get in a wreck?” more than usual. By March I was more than ready for spring to come, even if it brought tornadoes and floods. Outdoor activities in winter could be fun, but not if a true blizzard was in progress, or we just had 35 MPH winds hissing over the snow pack.

Endurance. That’s what drought and long winters, or hard winter storms, require. Endurance. You need resources, and preparation, and some knowledge of options and plans. Endurance takes different mental muscles than does dealing with a crisis. Tornadoes are sort of one-and-done. The roar in, they tear up everything, and the weather system moves on. It’s unusual to get hit multiple times in the space of a week or a month. Not that it doesn’t happen (Oklahoma, parts of Kansas, been there.) But usually it rips into the place and goes away. You literally pick up the pieces and move on. Drought and long cold linger, nibbling at you. Droughts and long winters make me weary in spirit as well as bothered in mind.

I prefer chilly to overly hot. I do not want extremes. I want steady rainfall, no tornadoes or giant hail, no floods, cold that is seasonal (or at least that I and my house and vehicle are prepared for).

You know, like Ian Tyson sings, “Just give me clear blue skies/ and eighteen inches of rain.”

You don’t get that living out here. Or almost anywhere in North America. Oh well.


14 thoughts on “Droughts and Freezes

  1. In one of Barbara Hambly’s books (set during WW2), an American officer is talking with a British officer (during the London Blitz) about the “it’s what you’re used to” and mention Californians who feared Tornados more than they feared California’s earthquakes.

    The British officer strayed at the American and said “You’re seen Tornados!”.

    IE A British officer who took the Blitz in stride was afraid of Tornados. 😆

  2. My last assignment was Minot, ND. “Why Not Minot? Freezin’s the reason!” My #1 remembrance was having been on the south ledge in winter, wearing my AF parka, and unzipping it because I was too warm in it at 20 degrees, thinking “DAMN!!!! I’ve acclimated!”

    • That was me in Feb-March when I lived in the Upper Midwest. “It’s 20 today! Great, let’s go hiking!” in flannel lined pants, thermal shirts, and a wool or fleece vest, with a fleece hat (or cowboy hat with flaps, because of the sun.) And gloves, but not heavy gloves.

      • I did a year-long tour in Greenland, at a base thirty miles north of the Arctic Circle. It got to the point where 32 degrees felt like a mild spring day.
        This was a place where at mid-winter, we had thirty minutes of twilight at mid-day, and the other 23.5 hours of total darkness. Which was bad enough – but curiously, the constant twilight at night at mid-summer was almost as unsettling, as we Air Force people assigned there soon discovered. The upside to that was, if you had gone to a scary movie in the base theater, you didn’t have to walk home in the dark…

  3. Minot, for as nasty as it might be, is *PREDICTABLY* so. And there is much value in that.

    Central WI (where I grew up, and where folks live[d]) was *MOSTLY* predictable. I do NOT consider it 100% coincidence that the year with the Spring with the tornado that destroyed Pa’s ‘plane was also the year with Autumn that saw Pa’s death. (A dream since at LEAST his teenage years,.. realized… and, eventually ripped away… I can’t truly claim it CAUSED his death, but I have *ZERO* issue with it being put into the ‘contributing factor’ column – even if Other Things were likely Far More Significant). As a newspaper put it “Mother Nature is a witch.*” * We’d use another word, but this is a family newspaper.

    • My daughter and I had a neighbor in Calle San Lamberto in Zaragoza, Spain – an Air Force retiree who had married a Spanish woman and settled down there. (I don’t know how he and the other military retirees there fared when the base was closed, as they had their mail and medical care through the base…) He was, as was described in Blazing Saddles, a dazzling urbanite … and in the 1960s, he got an assignment to Minot. He hated it so much, he volunteered for a tour in Vietnam, just to get out of Minot AFB.
      OTO – the outdoorsy, hunting types adored Minot. One man’s Mede is another man’s Persian…

  4. At least neither earthquakes nor California’s droughts (nor heat nor flooding) need to be shoveled off one’s front steps. My mother used to envy me that.

  5. In my misspent youth growing up in West Texas, a couple of buddiesand I would got tornado chasing several times a spring. Once we went as far as Enid OK and surprised my grandmother, who promptly chewed us out when she found out what we had been doing.

  6. . Driving in extreme cold keeps you wondering “what if I break down? What if I get in a wreck?” more than usual.

    Husband’s commuter toy has a digital readout of how many MPG you’ve been getting, and is *very* sensitive about tire pressure.

    At about -10 it lost at least five, more like ten, MPG– even after driving for a bit to adjust for the extended warm-up time.

    Got to the point my husband would go to the garage, start the car with the garage door shut, come back inside for 20 minuets, open the door with the second remote, and then go drive to work. Then the engine temp was not totally pegged at lowest.

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