Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fair Warning

According to news reports, officials in Alabama were aghast that so many people blithely ignored the tornado warnings issued on television, radio and the Internet during the recent spate of storms in the state. Part of the problem might be that weather warnings have lost their punch. Turn on Jeopardy any night of the week, and sometime before Alex congratulates the day's winner, Mark Johnson, Channel 5's crack meteorologist, will almost certainly elbow his way into the proceedings. And when he does, he will issue dire warnings of some imminent weather catastrophe. Although, judging from his demeanor, the more immediate threat is that he will be incontinent before returning the audience to the regularly scheduled programming.

But some people do hang on to every word that drops from the weatherman's mouth. Take Donna, for instance, a former colleague at the Ashtabula County Board of Developmental Disabilities. To be fair, for most of the year Donna's interest in the weather was in the normal range. "Hot enough for you?" she'd ask; or "Nice day, isn't it;" or "Does anyone know if it's supposed to rain tomorrow?" And at lunchtime, she stuck to the usual topics: what she had done the night before, what she was planning for the weekend, her kids' most recent accomplishments, how much work she had done that morning, how little work a co-worker not in the room had done, some uncomplimentary thoughts on the latest administrative directive and a slew of slanderous remarks about her ex.

But one day, usually around the middle of November, she forgot those things - completely, utterly, totally forgot about them for the next four months. There was no fading out of the old topics. It was as if Donna had gathered all the clutter in her mind, shoved it in a closet and slammed the door. All this happened on the day Donna walked into the lunchroom and said, "Snow day tomorrow." From that moment until St. Patrick's Day and perhaps beyond, Donna was a walking winter-weather advisory.

During the long, dark winter, our lunchtime conversations were dominated by the meteorological malarkey Donna had absorbed the night before.

"They showed it on radar. It is a huge storm," she'd say. "And it's all coming right over the lake. I'm predicting a foot-and-a-half, and if the winds are right, we could get two feet, easy. It you've got stuff here you might need at home, you better take it with you tonight, because we're not going to be here the rest of the week."

The next morning, it was obvious to even the untrained eye that the "storm of the century" had come disguised as scattered flurries. Any thought that Donna might have been humbled by the experience was dashed the moment she sat down to lunch.

"It was the jet stream," she'd say by way of explanation. "It veered south, and the storm missed us. But did you see the news this morning? Akron got clobbered.

Donna devoted the next few moments relating the tribulations faced by those in the areas where snow did fall: traffic jams, school closures, power outages and snow shovelers suffering heart attacks. After the recap, Donna would smile and say:

"Friday is going to be a snow day, I guarantee it. There's clipper on the way, and we're right in its path."

We all went to work Friday, of course. And the always optimistic Donna spent lunchtime assuring us another storm was brewing and that we would have a snow day on Monday just as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, which it did Monday in a beautiful, blue, cloudless sky.

Donna wasn't always wrong; three or four times each winter we'd have a snow day, just as she predicted. But one day in late March or early April, Donna would sit down to lunch and start bragging on her kids, complaining about the price of gas and talking about her plans for a garden. That's when we knew winter had run its course.

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