Feeling the weather, just like old times

Clouds

Linda Halstead-Acharya

High atop the Beartooths, roiling cumulus clouds leave little doubt that storms are brewing. One only need scan the sky and sniff the wind for clues of what’s to come.

Last evening, when I glanced at my phone, a new notification snagged my attention. It went something like this: “Light rain in 9 minutes. Ending in 24 minutes.”

Wow. That was a first. Rain was coming in nine minutes? Not 10? And, really, the radar could predict the precise minute the pitter-patter would taper off? My initial sense of wonder was quickly obliterated by a different sense of wonder. Are we really so out of touch?

Light

Linda Halstead-Acharya

Late-evening light crystallizes a rainbow over the Yellowstone River at Columbus. Our weather is part of who we are.

For several years now, I’ve doted on my phone for 10-day forecasts and colorful radar graphics. I watch the weather where my children live and I check predictions for places I plan to visit. But this was too much.

No doubt my reaction divulges my age. But, really, whatever happened to sensing the weather? Whatever happened to scanning the sky and sniffing the wind? To watching livestock take cover or constellations of birds swooping in mass? Whatever happened to reading the weather through the aches of long-ago fractures or the grumble of distant thunder?

Several years back, my city-living brother laughed as he remarked about Montanans’ obsession with weather. He lived inside and he worked inside. He’d made his home in a moderate climate where drizzle is common but drastic fluctuations are rare.

Here in the Big Sky state we relish the grand drama that plays out around us, taking some sort of pride in the furious storms that rake our horizons, the record-busting chinooks that flush ice from the foothills and the unrelenting sun that scorches soil into dust and primes the forests for combustion.

We pay attention to the weather because it shapes our lives and our livelihoods. Two days of rain in the forecast? Put off the haying. A blizzard predicted? Stock up on groceries and hunker down if you can.

And if not for the weather, what would we jaw about when politics, passions and personalities are too highly charged?

For many of us, weather is part of who we are. It’s a culture, a tradition and an acquired wisdom. We’ve learned to read messages from high, wispy clouds and steady east winds. We’ve shoveled snow, danced in a shower of leaves and walked backward against gusts that pelted us with gravel. We know the “squeaky” sound of footsteps-in-snow at 30 below and we’ve witnessed the magic of late-evening light ignite a rainbow to the east.

No, I have no plans to abandon the weather and radar apps on my phone. But they’ll never replace the touch of sun on my face in the dead of winter or the grandeur of massive cumulus clouds roiling, ever upward, in infinite shades of grays and whites. Weather makes our lives real.

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