David Bouchier: A Few Words About Weather

Mar 19, 2018

Tuesday will be the first official day of spring when the earth will be divided precisely into two, half in daylight and half in darkness, as the sun crosses the equator coming our way. It’s the Spring Equinox. Those of us who are sensitive to weather have an inner barometer of moods that change with sun or clouds, cold or rain or snow, so even the idea of spring makes us happy. 

The great thing about weather, good or bad, is that we can always talk about it, even or especially when we have nothing interesting to say, as I’m doing right now. It is the universal topic that allows us to converse with anyone without embarrassment. Mark Twain complained that “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” But that’s why weather is such a reassuring subject of conversation, precisely because we can’t do anything about it. It is fate, it is real life. I used to call my elderly mother in England every week, and we talked about the weather there, and the weather here. We enjoyed these conversations, and we both hung up the phone with the feeling that we had learned something important. The weather on the south coast of England was wet and cold. The weather on the north shore of Long Island was cold and wet. It was something we could share.

Beyond our ordinary, everyday weather there is unusual weather, which provides even more drama and entertainment. Every slight irregularity in the forecast is reported on TV with operatic exaggeration. For hopeless weather junkies, there’s the Weather Channel, which runs twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. Weather is never ordinary on the Weather Channel. Eighty-five million subscribers are rewarded with a steady diet of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and other extreme weather conditions affecting unfortunate people who live a long way away. It’s all great conversational material. When bad weather strikes closer to home – well, there’s really nothing else to talk about. Two inches of wet snow can create millions of intense conversations – unless you happen to live in Maine or Alaska, where they have higher standards.

Weather brings us together because we all suffer it equally. Our most ancient ancestors must have talked about the weather a lot. It was life and death to them, and maybe that’s why language was invented. Without a bit of weather to stimulate the conversation human beings might never have learned to talk at all and human history would be a million years of unsociable silence.

We keep being reminded by experts of the difference between weather, which is local, and climate, which is global. Unfortunately, while weather is all too familiar, climate is a scientific abstraction on a graph or a world map. Climate is huge, but we don’t dare to talk about it in case we start a political fight. 

An old friend of mine had an equally strong prejudice against weather as a subject. He banned any mention of it in his house on the grounds that all such talk was pointless and stupid. He was right, of course, weather is scarcely worth talking about. But sometimes, in those uneasy moments of social silence, weather is all we have. 

Copyright: David Bouchier