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Winter Weather

January 8, 2008

In winter, many of us become amateur meteorologists. Many of us try to discern the winter forecast, whether we observe the color of wooly worms, the number of acorns, hickory nuts, or pecans, or the thickness of our pet’s hair. The phenomenon of El Nino, the groundhog’s shadow on the second of February, or even a copy of The Farmer’s Almanac will probably not improve our accuracy. Weather forecasting for the Upstate is an inexact science.

Schoolteachers and schoolchildren look forward to snow. Following an old superstition said to insure snow, some even wear their pajamas inside out. Power company employees and highway crews don’t get to wear pajamas during winter weather. They have to work all night.

Whether we anticipate winter weather with excitement or dread, the following winter weather checklist may be helpful.

1. Be prepared! When winter weather is predicted, grocery stores do a booming business. Milk and bread vanish from the shelves. I was standing in the checkout line one icy day, glancing at tabloids, waiting my turn. I mused aloud, “When it snows, do people really sit at home drinking milk and eating bread?” The woman in line ahead of me explained. “I have three children. If I have milk and bread, peanut butter and jelly, and several boxes of cereal, I can feed my kids even with no electricity.”

2. Be careful out there! Hospitals report that one third of the patients who come to the emergency rooms in ice storms in the South are people who have fractures. One man who broke his neck said,” I acted like a silly kid. I was on a sled. My brother was pulling me with his pickup truck. The truck turned the corner. The sled did not. I crashed into a tree and fractured my fool neck.”

3. Be alert! Winter weather increases the risk of house fires. Using improvised heat sources like kerosene heaters or space heaters can be dangerous. Having a tank filled with heating oil or propane or a supply of firewood for an open fireplace or wood-burning stove is a good idea. Having alternate sources of heat is also wise. Operated outside, a home generator can be a lifesaver. In an enclosed area, a generator can be deadly.

4. Be kind to animals. Take precautions with pets. Our four-legged friends need adequate food, water, and shelter. Feed the birds. Ice and snow limit the availability of seeds and insects. Our feathered friends will flock to seed and suet feeders

5. Be attentive. Elderly people are especially vulnerable during winter weather. A phone call to a shut-in neighbor will be appreciated. Sometimes they need help with simple chores. Picking up the newspaper or mail will give you a reason to stop in to see that they are warm and well fed.

6. Be helpful. If you have reliable transportation, volunteer to deliver Mobile Meals or serve in the Soup Kitchen. At Regional Hospital one snowy morning, I went into a stairway in the parking garage. A homeless man had been sleeping in that stairwell, not a warm place to spend the night. I asked security to drive him to Miracle Hill Mission.

7. Be generous. Several years ago, I received a check made out to the benevolent fund at our church. A handwritten note explained, “I was in World War II and nearly froze. I can’t stand the thought of people, especially children, being cold. Please see to it that this helps somebody who needs to be warm.” Three days later the money was used to provide heating oil for a family with four small children.

8. Be grateful. For some, winter weather means hard work under severe conditions. Road crews, law enforcement officers, firemen, telephone workers, power company employees, tow truck drivers, paramedics, and medical personnel face harsh conditions for the public good. Some of them have to work many hours of overtime. You might take time to write a thank you note expressing gratitude. Remember to pray for them.

9. Be patient! Domestic violence increases during winter weather. Don’t allow yourself to fall into that pattern. Instead, use the opportunity to enjoy your family. Be interested and active with children. Share their wonder and their delight in what may be for them a frozen wonderland. There is no excuse for boredom. A good book, a jigsaw puzzle, a board game, making music, telling stories, and meals together can be enjoyed by candlelight, even during a power outage.

10. Be glad! For many people, winter weather means time off. Think of it as a gift, a day of grace. The pace slows for winter weather, especially in our Southland. An icy day can be a time to read, to rest, to reflect, to write, and to pray.

The United States Weather Bureau says that winter is the most difficult time of the year to make accurate forecasts. The Piedmont section of the South is one of the most challenging areas of the country for meteorologists to make winter weather predictions.

Several years ago, I had an opportunity to talk with local weather prognosticator, Jack Roper, about this very issue. I passed on a suggestion to him from my good friend, George Schrieffer.

“One thing that would help,” I said, “would be to look out of the window. If you just look outside, you could see what the weather was actually doing.”

“Believe it or not,” he said, “I don’t even have a window in my office.”

I believe it!

-Kirk H. Neely

© H-J Weekly, January 2008

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