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A full year has come and gone since Hannah and I started Ditch the Umbrella. In that time we’ve reflected, mulled, and written about our emotional calendars, and, hopefully, gained a deeper understanding of what boosts our moods and where our emotional hotspots lurk. But now that we’ve completed a full seasonal cycle, we’ve completed our original mission, and so we will be concluding our little experiment. This will be my last blog post, and Hannah’s final reflection will be coming soon.

I, at least, have made changes to the way I live because of these little revelations: last winter, my worst season by far, I had such a bad case of cabin fever that I resorted to a frenetic and uncoordinated evening playing my roommate’s DDR (Dance Dance Revolution). This year, in an effort to prevent bad dancing, I’ve joined a gym so I can have an outlet for my energy when the days are short, the nights frigid, and the sidewalks nearly unwalkable.

The DDR incident, as I’ve come to think of it, taught me that I need to find ways to enjoy the winter sun, even if my face becomes an icicle. So this year, I plan on returning to cross country skiing, and may even try some winter hiking. (But only if I can start a snowball fight somewhere along the way.)

And I’ve started cooking, and cooking seasonally — enjoying fruits and vegetables when they’re naturally fresh (though I’ll still eat winter tomatoes, even if they’re nothing like the tomatoes Hannah rushed back to the States for) — and synching myself with the cycles of New England in that way.

But most importantly, I’m aware of my hotspots. Of the energy I feel in the fall that propels me to go-go-go, and to have an adventure. Of my weather obsession, which I no doubt inherited from the women in my family. Of my need to travel in the summer, or feel like I’m missing out on something. Of the amount of sleep I need to feel well rested and ready to go, especially when the hours of daylight are limited. Of the joy the holidays bring me with their carols, gingerbread, pine, and good cheer. Of the frustration I feel in the middle of winter, when I just can’t think about slipping on ice yet again. And of the things I can do to make the most of these experiences, and to revel in the joys each year brings.

Thanks for reading.

Late afternoon on the rails, Peru

Weather: Cloudy and unseasonably warm. Over 60 degrees in Cambridge.

Mood:

Anna: 6 out of 10. Energized, but slightly sad to be saying goodbye to DTU. A bit nostalgic.

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wildfire smoke, early yesterday morning*

There was a haze of smoke over the city this morning as I rode north towards campus. It was late morning and at first I thought it was the kind of haze that comes from intense heat and humidity, but this is austin, it is dry as a bone.

Many of you have heard about the Bastrop Wildfires that have been burning outside of Austin the past few days. As of this morning, 34,000 acres have burned and 577 houses have been destroyed in Bastrop County alone. Because of the damage it’s incurring, this fire is drawing national coverage: but according to Texas Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples, “Damage to this community is reflective of all Texas.  This is the worst burn season ever.”

Information about the fires is spreading slowly across the city. I heard about it early, from people who know people who lost their homes last week. (You can keep track of the fires reliably here.) Then I started getting e-mails from my friends back and east, and I realized the fire was going to be something big. One gentleman in my yoga class said it was a sign of global warming; others implied it might be intended for Rick Perry. Two weeks into my class on the apocalypse, I’m tempted to see signs of impending doom in the slew of natural disasters that have hit us this summer.

The truth, of course, is much smaller and closer to home. For those of us in Texas, the news is full of information about how to get involved, and it was inspiring this morning to see people on the street collecting money for the relief effort. And for everyone else – political and religious views aside, now might be as good a time as any to pray for rain.

Weather:
In texas we’re having a cold snap at 93 degrees. In Somerville, it’s 60.

Mood:
Hannah: 6 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale.

*photocredit to the wildfire blog wildfiretoday.com, which also shows an extraordinary map of the fires. But this photo they pulled from youtube.

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We haven’t had particularly good weather luck here in Massachusetts this summer. Sure there have been warm, breezy, sunny days, but in the span of the past few months we’ve also experienced tornadoes and an earthquake. Now, here comes Hurricane Irene.

Last night I bought more non-perishable food and 3 jugs of water from the grocery store. In the check-out line there were mixed reactions. While chatting with the customer ahead of me, the cashier observed, “There have been people stocking up on water and food all day long! I think this is all over-blown. What happens, happens, but I’m not going to worry about it. I think they’re the ones overreacting.” I looked down guiltily at my stacks of soup, crackers, and trail mix, and wondered if I could hide a jug of water under the counter.

I’ve been tracking the hurricane all day and reading up on storm prep.  (After all, I am my mother’s daughter.) Apparently, you’re supposed to buy one gallon of water per person per day of potential captivity; a 3-day supply is listed as the minimum. A 7-day supply is the preferred quantity. Whoa, hold up — do I even have room in my apartment for that much water?! And how could I possibly drink that much in the course of a day? But after reading that, I’m concerned I won’t have enough, so I’ll be stopping at the grocery store again tonight. This time I’ll avoid the criticism and find another check-out line.

But in all seriousness, the reports show this storm could inflict massive damage, and it’s better to be over-prepared than unprepared. Here’s what The Weather Channel suggests people gather:

Essential Items

During a hurricane, and possibly for days or even weeks afterward, electricity and other utilities might not be available. Debris and/or water might block the roads, preventing vehicles from getting in our out of your neighborhood. Help might not reach you for days after the hurricane, so you’ll need to be completely self-sufficient during that period.

Here are some of the most critical supplies to have on hand, well before a hurricane threatens:

    • At least a 3-day and preferably a 7-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day)
    • Non-perishable food
    • Formula, diapers, and other baby supplies
    • Manual can opener
    • First aid kit
    • Prescription and non-prescription medicines
    • Toiletries
    • Cell phones and battery-powered cell phone chargers
    • Battery-powered radios and flashlights
    • Plenty of batteries
    • Extra cash
    • Blankets, sleeping bags, books, and games (especially if evacuating)

Additionally, here are the steps The Weather Channel recommends people take when a hurricane threatens:

When a Hurricane Threatens

Depending on your location, you could be told to evacuate before a warning or even a watch is issued by the National Hurricane Center. Notify someone unaffected by the storm about your whereabouts.No later than when a watch is issued:

  • Fill vehicles with gas.
  • Get extra cash.
  • Fill prescriptions.
  • For mobile homes, secure tie-downs and prepare to evacuate when ordered.
  • Bring in loose objects from outside.
  • Prepare to secure all windows with shutters or plywood.

No later than when a warning is issued:

  • Secure all windows with shutters or plywood.
  • Place valuables and important papers in a waterproof container and store on highest floor
  • of home.

If you are told to evacuate:

  • Follow all instructions from local officials, and leave immediately when told to do so.
  • Bring emergency supplies listed above.
  • Bring copies of important papers such as insurance policies and list and photos of your home’s contents.
  • Bring blankets, sleeping bags, books, and games.
  • Unplug appliances, turn off electricity and main water valve.
  • Lock windows and doors of your home.
  • Go!

If you are not told to evacuate:

  • Stay at home! Leave the roads available for those who must evacuate.
  • Clean bathtub with bleach, fill with water for washing and flushing (not drinking).
  • Set fridge to maximum cold and keep closed.
  • Turn off utilities if told to do so by local officials.

During a Hurricane

  • Go to an interior room on the lowest level of the structure in which you’re taking shelter.
  • Stay away from windows and doors, even though they’re covered with shutters or
  • plywood.
  • During extremely strong winds, lie under something sturdy such as a stairwell or large piece of furniture.
  • Do not go outside, not even during passage of the eye. If the eye passes directly over you, the winds could become very weak, but only for a very short period. It will not be long before hurricane-force wind resume, blowing from the opposite direction as before the eye arrived.

After a Hurricane

  • Help might not come for up to a few days, and power could be out for days or even weeks.
  • Avoid driving on roads covered by water and/or debris. It is often difficult to determine the depth of water covering a road. Turn around, don’t drown.
  • Avoid downed power lines. Stay away from objects that are touching a downed power line, such as a fence or tree.
  • Do not touch anything electrical if you are wet. Stay out of water that could be touching anything electrical, such as in a basement with electrical appliances, or in flooded areas outside where there could be downed power lines.
  • Only use a generator in an outdoor, well-ventilated area, and closely follow manufacturer’s instructions. Many people have died in the aftermath of a hurricane from inhalation of poorly ventilated carbon monoxide from a generator.
  • Use flashlights instead of candles for light. Candles pose a serious fire hazard.

Stay safe, stay dry, and stay hydrated and nourished. Here’s to hoping all this preparation is needless after all.

Weather: 80 degrees. Blue skies, fluffy clouds, and sun.

Moods:

Anna – 7.5 out of 10. Ready to buy more supplies. Stay safe, my friends.
Hannah – 6 out of 10. Hoping everyone back home stays dry… and send some of that rain my way!

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There is a sign around the corner from my new house that says, “We were created. Evolution is a lie.”

Texas Longhorns

austin!

It is over 100 degrees in Austin today and I am hiding inside with the curtains down because my blood’s too thick for this kind of weather. (“Take an aspirin,” my roommate advises, “if you want your blood to thin faster.”) To think I used to believe thick blood was a metaphorical statement!

I arrived in Austin on Monday and drove back to the apartment with my new roommate. On the ride home Amy, who is from New York, told me about Austin. “You’re going to experience some culture shock,” she warned as we drove past a Cowboy Boot store and a trailer park which doubles as a restaurant. “It’s like being in a different country.”

So far, I’ve found it difficult to get a handle on just what kind of country I’m living in. Austin is home to Whole Foods and Rick Perry; the Texas Longhorns and South by Southwest. The UT campus features a confederate statue and a Gutenberg bible. And did I mention it’s over 100 degrees outside?

My roommate told me that Austin is great because everyone’s happy all the time. “It’s not like the northeast,” she said. “People don’t do cynicism.” This is scary to me, and I asked if she thought it was because Austin is always sunny. She says she thinks it’s because Texas has hardly any history, and its economy has always been great.

As for the heat, Amy says that summer in Texas is like winter in Boston. You stay inside all day long, and you suffer from all the accompanying madness. I didn’t believe that until I got up at seven this morning to go for a bike ride and discovered it was already 80 degrees.

Of course, the super-hot weather has some perks. In my new backyard is a vegetable garden. Right now, it’s totally dead. But by November, just as winter starts to set in back east, I’ll be looking forward to a second harvest. That’s something to be optimistic about.

Weather:
Austin: 93 degrees and sunny, with a high of 105
Somerville: 82 degrees and sunny, with a high of  82.

Moods:
Hannah: 8 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. excited to be in a new place.

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100 Percent Hot*

It’s pouring rain outside of my window and I finally feel like I’ve come home.

I was in Europe for two months. Two months always goes faster than you think it will: I could swear it was only a few weeks ago that I packed up my bags and walked through security at Logan Airport. But when I left the blossoms had just come out on the trees and it was still cold enough to wear sweaters in the morning.

Apparently a lot changed in my absence, because on Wednesday I stepped out of the airconditioning and found myself in the middle of a heat wave. The temperature peaked at 98 this week, according to my household thermometer. (That’s 36 in celsius!) For the last two days all I’ve done is sit on the couch in a stupor, reading Gary Shteyngart or staring off into space. I don’t know whether it was the heat wave or the jet lag that did me in, but I’ve hardly been able to move, never mind speak in complete sentences or write coherent statements. The Emotional Calendar has all kinds of tips for managing jet leg, but I was too hot and tired to do any of them. “I should have stayed in Barcelona,” I moaned several times a day.

Then this morning I woke up at 5:30 (that’s 11:30 Barcelona time!), just in time to hear the first drops of rain against the windows. Minutes later we were in the midst of a full-fledged thunder storm. Lightning flashed, water poured in through the wide-open windows (I took a break from writing this to run around shutting them) and the temperature dropped to 70 degrees. Finally, I’m glad to be home.

Weather: 70 degrees and raining
Mood:
Hannah: 8 out of 10.
Anna: in Beijing!

*Image courtesy of weather.com

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The only thing I hated more than fire safety week in elementary school was having to watch “Night of the Twisters” in class. Both terrified me. I don’t remember whose idea it was to show the film, but I’m pretty sure it was supposed to be a treat (to be fair, Devon Sawa starred in it, and he was a hit). Instead, it caused me endless nightmares, despite the fact I lived in Massachusetts. Everybody knows that Massachusetts doesn’t have to worry about tornadoes. Except when we do. Like today.

Imagine my surprise today when I received a very serious sounding email from my mother, the weather maven, reading: “Be very, very careful about this weather situation. No joke.” Now imagine my terror when I read her follow-up email: “Tornado watch. Severe storms heading this way with major hail and winds, etc.” I spent the next hour debating whether I would be safer at home or at my office, until I finally took a deep breath and practically ran outside. The flash of lightning and clap of thunder that coincided with my exit didn’t help matters, nor did the too-dark-for-5pm skies.

I’m home now, tucked inside and listening to the news about western Massachusetts, especially Springfield. I’m hoping everyone emerges safely after the storms, although sadly, I’ve heard that one casualty has already been confirmed. The coverage is nonstop even though the tornado warnings have been lifted. Apparently we’re in store for severe thunderstorms and high winds here in Boston, but as of two minutes ago, it doesn’t sound like we’ll have our own night of the twisters tonight. Thankfully.

Springfield after the tornado, courtesy of @TheFalconsAHL

Springfield after the tornado, again courtesy of @TheFalconsAHL

Weather: Lightning, dark skies, wind…and soon enough, rain. Generally, tornadic weather.

Mood:

Anna – 5 out of 10. Happy to be inside, but nervous about funnel clouds.

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The canal is slashed with colorful pops of color — canoes and kayaks ready to be taken out onto the Charles. Since the opening of the season, they’ve been bobbing in the water, waiting for adventure-seeking tourists and groups of corporate team builders. I look down on them from my office, but so far, most of the paddling has been done by ducks that laze about on the water. I’ve been waiting for the kayakers, but they haven’t come.

I think of May as a warm month: short sleeves and light sweaters. But the past few weeks I’ve been wearing layers under my wool coat. From my office perch the sunlight, leafy trees, and people on their daily walks all make it seem warmer than it is. Then I step outside, am hit by a gust of wind, and wish I hadn’t been tricked by the light.

My new threshold for the start of summer? When people brave the no-longer-dirty-water of the Charles River and start launching regularly from the small dock down below.

Weather: Sunny. 59 degrees.

Moods:

Anna – 6.5 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Somehow it doesn’t really feel like Friday.

Hannah – She’s having an adventure, so I hope she’s a 10 and celebrating Food Friday with a bowl of beautifully crafted pasta.

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