I’m not sure who the audience is supposed to be for most National Weather Service “special advisories” in my area. Especially this one:
Special Weather Statement for Northern Franklin County (June 15): The warm air temperatures this weekend in the 70s and lower 80s may cause people to underestimate the dangers of the cold water temperatures, which are currently only in the mid 50s. The cold water temperatures can quickly cause hypothermia to anyone immersed in the water when the water temperature is below 60 degrees. The average submerged person could lose dexterity within minutes and be unable to accomplish simple tasks. Anyone on small boats, canoes, or kayaks should plan accordingly if recreating this weekend and use extreme caution to avoid this threat.
It was the real deal, dominating the online weather forecast with so many capital letters and exclamatory symbols it might as well have been an all-points bulletin about a serial killer on the loose or an SOS to all ships at sea.
“Seriously?” I said. Sitting there in my shorts, all-season fleece jacket and slipper socks, I got the feeling that whomever the national weather authorities thought they needed to alert, they weren’t from around here.
As a seasoned Rangeley resident, I know that May typically translates to “May I please put away my hat and gloves a few days before my Memorial Day cookout?” Then comes June-uary when, even if I get a few of those almost-summer teaser days, I’m not gonna dig out my bathing suit anytime soon. And I’m certainly not gonna go and immerse myself yet. Not intentionally, anyways.
Coming up to Rangeley and places like it as a kid, I used to intentionally immerse myself in the lake as soon after ice-out as possible. I didn’t have AccuWeather radar or emergency bulletins to warn me not to “underestimate the danger.” I didn’t even have the sense that God gave geese. But I had my Dad, standing on the dock as I cannon balled past him, hollering something about being a numb skull and going into cardiac arrest. I could barely hear him, though, with the cold, cold water closing over me, making my heart nearly stop and my head go numb.
It didn’t take too many summers for me to realize why waders and wet suits were popular things. And why my parents waited for those rare 90-degree days to do the Mom and Dad swim-shuffle up to their waists and back to shore. Not because they were old. Because they were wise.
Before my Big Move to Rangeley, I used to pay pretty good attention to winter weather advisories. That’s because doing so could grant me official National Weather Service permission to “work at home” instead of slip-sliding down the turnpike to spend eight hours in an office cubicle. It could also clue me in to an ensuing snow day. That way, I’d keep one eye open the next morning for the best weather-related “news you can use” in a house with teenagers and a teacher husband—the list of school closures. When our town finally scrolled across the TV screen, I’d authoritatively announce that they could all stay in bed and shuffle back there myself.
Out here, though—especially during the Never Ending Winter of 2019—I barely bat an eye. Seeing a generic weather “statement” is kinda like when I’m sliding into a 180 in the Subaru and the little red squiggly icon flashes on the dash to tell me, officially, that my road surface is frozen and I need to exercise caution. Ya think? Geez, so glad I got that super helpful validation so I wouldn’t be befuddled and skidding toward a snowbank at the same time!
Who needs to click on the little red exclamation banner across the daily Rangeley forecast to read the painfully obvious? Not me. Something about having snow piled past your window sills imparts an innate sense of knowing. Nor’easter coming? Got it. Freezing rain turning to snow to rain then back again? Been there, doin’ that. Even on the days I try to ignore what’s all around me, a few steps off the back porch keeps me up to the minute on current conditions in my area.
Yup, after ten winters and almost-summers on the Big Lake, I instinctively already know. Or if I don’t—promptly and precisely—I act as if I do. Meaning I assume I’m gonna need a Gor-Tex coat, a few layers of fleece, socks up to my knees, waterproof gloves, all-terrain footwear, three different hats, tear-away pants, an umbrella, a shovel, a couple flares and a cell phone, even if the only coverage I might get is with the flashlight app.
Try as they might to encapsulate my local weather into a one or two-line forecast, the nerds at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hardly ever hit it right. That’s because—to borrow an analogy from my software development tech writing days—it’s like nailing Jello to a tree. There are just too many ever-changing variables to squish into a blanket statement. Mountain currents, lake effects, you name it. Efforts at articulation usually end up with too little too late or somewhere in La La Land.
It’s still a fun guessing game, though, logging on to look, getting the meteorological low-down on what I can see coming across Bemis from town, or what the really big Great Lakes are supposedly sending my way. Then I concur with Tom, my resident Joe Cupo, and try to plan accordingly. Most days, it goes something like this.
Me: What’s NOAA saying about today’s weather and the possibility of outside activities? (I pronounce it Noah, with Biblical intonation).
Tom (on his NOAA-defaulted laptop): It’s fine if you don’t mind getting wet.
Substitute wet with frost bitten, wind blown, dusty and/or burnt and I pretty much have my custom, regional AccuWeather forecast.
Unless, of course, I’m on vacation—down the mountain for a tropical mud season break. Now that really ratchets up the entertainment value of looking at the Rangeley forecast! I read the special weather advisories out loud, sometimes hourly. And for even more giggles, I check out the live action on the Bald Mountain Camps web cam, just making sure how much snow, sleet or other fun stuff is getting dumped on my frozen lakefront back home. It doesn’t change a thing I’m doing. Except a little barefoot happy dance before I intentionally immerse myself in the warm, warm water.