Friday, November 25, 2005


It’s no coincidence that airline companies and travel agents place print and electronic ads promoting winter getaways to a warmer setting during severe cold spells. By and large, people don’t have to be sold on the idea of a short sojourn in the sun but the reality is that many of us spend the winter close to home base. This means being more or less dependent on the capricious nature of storm systems and the probability of them landing on our doorstep. An outdoorsy friend who is at one with nature in all four seasons, counsels everyone within listening range that the best way to deal with winter is not to fight it but to join in the fun. There are many words that spring to mind describing winter most of which can’t be printed in a family newspaper, but “fun” is definitely not on the list.

Foretelling the weather is chancy at the best of times and there is the tendency to blame the weather forecaster for an incorrect forecast. These days modern technology has progressed to point where meteorologists understand the formation of weather systems yet they still can’t with 100% certainty predict the weather from day-to-day. Television “weather presenters” standing in front of a map bandy about terms like stationary front and cold front to explain a sudden spell of unexpected adverse weather.

There is an abundance of weather-related sites on the Web offering a plethora of interesting weather-related information for anyone who wants an explanation for winter conditions. Important essentials that enquiring minds need (or want) to know about freezing rain for example, in that it freezes on impact and forms a coat of ice on the ground AND on the objects it strikes. Go figure! This is very important information for all of us who navigate un-salted and un-sanded sidewalks like a tightrope walker under the influence. Moreover, snow is composed of star-shaped hexagonal ice crystals. Can’t speak for others but it’s rare to see people waiting outdoors with magnifying glass in hand, to ascertain the molecular makeup of snow. It’s not so rare, however, to hear people curse out accumulated falling snow or a misdiagnosed weather forecast.

In the way of “I-didn’t-know-that!” information, there is a difference between snow pellets and snow grains. Snow pellets are brittle and easily crushed when they fall on hard ground, they bounce and often break up. Snow grains on the other hand are minute white and opaque grains of ice that do not bounce or shatter when they hit hard ground. This is the type of trivial fact to keep for special occasions to impress people.
“This looks to me like snow grains and not snow pellets,” a person with snow knowledge could opine, after bringing in a sample of snow taken from outside, indoors. “Notice how it doesn’t break up when dropped on this beautiful, expensive and imported Indian rug. It merely leaves a big mark.”

As a matter of interest Environment Canada has introduced a new wind chill index for Canadians, people who know about snow and cold, based on the way the human body loses heat in the cold. So the new method signifies how the temperature would feel on skin if the wind were reduced to a walking pace of 4.8 km/h. Let’s say if the outside temperature is minus ten Celsius and the wind chill factor is minus twenty, an exposed face would feel as cold as it would on a calm day when the temperature is minus twenty Celsius. Logically when the temperature drops to this level we should be bundling up with warm head coverings and scarves to avoid frostbite. However, logic and fashion don’t mix and many pedestrians – me among them – shun headwear in fear of being left with the dreaded “soup bowl” look upon removal of a hat.

According to another source it could be (notice how the word “could” is featured prominently in forecasting?) colder than normal this winter due to cold Arctic air. In other words - same old, same old. Meanwhile word has it that there’s a great seat sale for a Florida escape. Where else would we get to see our neighbours during winter?

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