And Then What Happened?: The outsider’s guide to weather


For the Recorder
Published: 1/20/2020 10:33:50 PM

I come from an area of the country where a hurricane will blow in and smack your house down, just to make you look bad. Heat drags its cousin Humidity over, sultry enough to fry you in hot oil. Conversely, that same humid cousin will keep you so chilled in winter at 45 Louisiana degrees that you’ll beg to go back north where 10 dry degrees feel warm next to that wet cold.

And going back north to Western Massachusetts in January will be just fine. For about 15 minutes.

Lord in Heaven, who can tell what in the world this weather around here is up to? Everyone in New England agrees that if you don’t like the weather, 10 more minutes can change it up enough that you won’t recognize it as being part of the same day’s weather cycle, but what I want to know is, what the heck is all of the other stuff going on that calls itself “weather” this time of year?

A few weeks ago we had an event here in Ashfield that began with two days of frozen water falling out of the sky, coating every single thing it could wrap itself around, in clear frozen glass. We had heard of ice before; back in 2008 ice turned Ashfield into a very quiet and powerless town for over a week. (I remember it well for the many thousands of dollars worth of food we lost at Elmer’s in the dead walk-in cooler over those eight days of ice. I still carry a grudge against ice.)

So this time we got your thrashing ice storm, but apparently that wasn’t exceptional enough, so it ramped up to an event that sounded just like dinosaurs sliding off your roof. I don’t know what that was, but whole Allosauruses slipped screaming off the roof into the snow and then, disappeared as soon as it hit the ground. Run off into the snowy woods, maybe. But where did they come from? And how did they get on the roof? As weird as that was, we were lucky. My next door neighbor alerted me that, at that very same moment down in Springfield they were wrangling tornadoes! In January! Just as I was thanking goodness that we were blessed with sliding dinosaurs instead of tornadoes, the sky freaked completely out, and exploded with thunder and lightning. Now, I’m clearly no scientist, but isn’t it heat that constructs thunder and lightning? I thought so. So, what was heat doing in the middle of an ice storm, where it had no business at all?

A few days after that, bears, or ghosts or aliens or something pelted the roof of my house with snowballs all night long. I could hear the snowballs hitting the roof, breaking up, and sliding down to the dinosaurs waiting below. If I had large trees bending over my house it would make sense that squirrels were up there dropping snow bombs all night long. But I don’t. From 3 to 5 in the a.m. I catalogued all of the things in the known world that might be throwing snow boulders at my roof and all I could come up with were the aforementioned bears, ghosts or aliens. Or maybe the squirrels had catapults over in the far trees, firing away at my house all night long. That actually is the clearest explanation.

And then the next day, 63 degrees strolled in with its hands behind its back, asking, “Whaaaat? That’s just what we do around here!” And the day after that, we had 63 degrees and sunshine! Just like it was May! The whole day was lovely until the wind got wind of the whole thing and whipped in with an afternoon chill again, dumping snow and herding us back to our proper January seats, just like a cavalcade of stern nuns with rulers.

All I can figure is that this whole weather thing is something devised by the New England Federation of Clothing Manufacturers. (Or by the acronym, NEFOCM, an ancient word that means “Making money daily, all winter long.”) They are good at what they do — I have a mountain of clothing on the couch, waiting to be changed in and out of every hour or so, and actually got warm during the 63-degree day on a walk wearing only three slender layers, instead of the 19 or 30 I usually wear. (Again, I’m from the south.)

So if you have friends coming up from anywhere South of here to visit, or more, thinking of digging in and staying, please give them this handy guide, written by one of their own. They need to know what the heck it is they’re getting into before they get anywhere close to it. It’s really the nicest thing you could do for them. And for yourself when they start looking around for someone to blame the dinosaurs on.

Nan Parati lives and works in Ashfield, where she found home and community following Hurricane Katrina. She can be reached at


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