Friday, December 3, 2010

Intemperate zones

Because I grew up in the New York City-centric tri-state area, the seasonal weather patterns of that particular geographical situation are what I will forever consider normal. I’m just barely mature enough now to realize that everyone else has their own version of normal, based on what they themselves grew up with. So even though notions like warm summers with occasional spikes of extreme heat, and variable autumns, and cold winters with a few snowfalls and a blizzard every so many years, and rainy but gradually warming springs all sounds, to my ears, like some kind of thoroughly standardized rational baseline, it’s really just what I was exposed to when I was too young to know any better than to consider my experiences emblematic of universal truths.

Another thing I was admittedly simple-minded about when I was a kid was the way that latitude affects average temperatures. I knew that the arctic was cold year-round and the equator was hot, and Florida was close enough to the equator to make a really nice getaway in February. Somehow I came to believe that there was just this pronounced gradient as you moved up or down the east coast, so points north in New England and Canada must have cooler summers than NYC and much harsher winters, while the southern states would correspondingly have milder winters and more sweltering summers. All of which is kind of true in the broad strokes, but I basically believed that on any given day any time of year, whatever the weather was in central New Jersey, it must be ten degrees colder a couple hundred miles north and ten degrees warmer a couple hundred miles south in a logical geometric progression. This irrationality was semi-consciously part of the reason why I decided to go to college in Virginia, because I’m not all that fond of ice-cold winters, and I was fairly bummed to learn that Virginia still gets snow and sleet and sub-zero days and all that. (I have since gotten over it.) I also was apparently incapable of wrapping my younger head around the relative sizes of states, which led to formulations like this: three states lie between New York and Virginia (NJ, DE, MD) and three states lie between Virginia and Florida (NC, SC, GA) so Virginia must be a nice happy medium exactly halfway between New York and Florida, weather-wise, right?

Not that any of this is horrifically warped, really, since we all start out uninformed and capable of convincing ourselves of “facts” based on fallacies and wild misconceptions, and sometimes only actual life experience can disabuse us of them. What strikes me as funny is how some kind of primacy effect allows these absurd wide-eyed notions to hang around basically forever. This is all top of mind because they’re calling for snow in the Carolinas this weekend, and upon hearing that my initial response was the same old dissonance, the “How can it snow south of here before it snows here?” as if I’d never before encountered the idea that weather patterns have irregular shapes more often than not and move with utter disregard for the ladder rungs I see in my mental east coast map (as drawn by an eight year old).

And apropos of virtually nothing, except the arrival of December and snow reports in general and my geekiness in particular, my Very Little Bro sent me this picture this morning:

Aren't you a little short for a snowflake?  Wait, dang, that doesn't even make sense.
I really can’t top that.

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