"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Scratching our head about weather forecasts

It's 2:15 a.m. Sunday and we're supposed to be in a winter storm now. But nothing seems amiss. This happens not infrequently.
The word "warning" instead of "watch" is supposed to guarantee something bad. But I remember a couple months ago, a blizzard warning was officially on but nothing amiss had set in. To the extent the winds arrived, it ended up being not that bad.
The Weather Channel with its glitzy production would seem to guarantee us solid information. Its track record is really not that great. It seems so reassuring to see that day-by-day breakdown of the weather lying ahead for the week. Even after we have learned we cannot rely on it, it seems tempting to seek it out again, as if we just shouldn't question such a glitzy production.
As a side note, my perception of what's "glitzy" is affected by my age: 58. Young people take all this elaborate communications stuff for granted. They should step into a time machine and go back to the 1960s. Tune in to the Alexandria TV channel. It was right out of Petticoat Junction. ("And there's Uncle Joe, he's a-movin' kind of slow at the junction. . .Petticoat Junction.")
I remember when then-Congressman Arlan Stangeland got irate at weather predicting that was off the mark. A serious storm set in without adequate warning. The Congressman was in transit somewhere. I assume he was mad at the National Weather Service.
The reaction to that incident was predictable: It seemed that those in the business of predicting the weather decided to err on the side of predicting the worst. There's nothing to lose, right? If a blizzard is foreseen but none arrives, no harm done, right?
In our litigious age, the forecasters probably felt they were protecting themselves on liability grounds. Failure to predict bad stuff could get you in trouble. Erring on the other side was safe.
But of course it's not so simple. You want your forecasts to be taken seriously. If you fail in this and cause people to hunker down for a storm when they needn't do so, guess what? You've fallen into the "cry wolf" principle. You'll "cry wolf" and people will just shrug.
Maybe we should just admit here in Minnesota that weather has an ominous presence and we just need vigilance. But this shouldn't be needed in April.
It's Sunday, April 14, as I write this. We don't have just a few crusty patches of snow left. We have a white landscape. It's ridiculous. It's beyond what a lifetime Minnesotan might expect, and we can expect a lot.
How immensely therapeutic it would be, if we could get out to the bike trail by the river, visit the gazebos there and sense the re-awakening nature. How nice to put on a short-sleeve shirt. How nice to let some outside air in through screen windows. How nice to just take a walk. How nice to see some of the West Wind Village residents sitting outside to get some fresh air.
It's 2:35 a.m. Sunday morning as I write this. The bad weather was supposed to arrive at 1 a.m. and continue through 1 p.m. Sunday. I'll believe it when I see it.
Why am I writing in the middle of the night? I have difficulty sleeping through the night now. As most of you know, we had a death in the family in February. I was busy as a caretaker for that person in the last couple years of his life. I wish I was still doing it. But God has a plan. These changes come and we adjust to them.
Now that I have less work to do, I have excess energy and need less rest. So I awaken when the world around me is dormant. I have my steaming mug of instant coffee and squares of dark chocolate. Then I will often write something like I'm doing now. Time seems suspended.
The dog likes being taken out in the middle of the night. Maybe this is a scene out of "Petticoat Junction." Remember the "rural" trend in TV shows in the 1960s? We had Eddie Albert in "Green Acres" and Andy Griffith in "Andy of Mayberry." The shows probably reflected a yearning we had for simplicity.
It would seem we ought to yearn for that simplicity more today. Of course, we didn't have tech shortcuts back then that we have now. How did we get along at all without any special tech toys? Well we did. There was no immediacy for talking to someone. We could let time drag. We could get bored.
We waited to get the weather forecast. I can't imagine we were any worse off in that regard.
Communication is immediate today but that doesn't mean the forecasters are any sharper. We just think we can abide by those forecasts, presented as they are with such nice graphics on TV.
It's 3 a.m. now and there's still nothing amiss outside. Not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse. Our dog, "Sandy," is back to snoozing. He's 16 years old but holding his own fine. He has sled dog blood which I think keeps his legs strong. The legs can be the first to go. My father lived to 96. There must be something to be said for my caretaking.
 
J.C. Penney, RIP?
I remember early in my career in the print media, I referred to "Penney's" in an article. This was the common and accepted way of referring to these stores. But it was not formal or official. An editor changed my reference to "the Morris J.C. Penney store."
What? You didn't know we had a J.C. Penney store? We sure did and it was on main street. Then it closed and we would have to go to Alexandria. Now it looks like the whole J.C. Penney enterprise might be shuttering. Man the lifeboats.
Is the one in Alexandria still open? It was an "anchor" store at the shopping mall.
Can we imagine a world without J.C. Penney? Sure we can. Other behemoth companies have been phased out. It's creative destruction.
When I was a kid, "Penney's" was part of that whole model of clothes-buying where a clerk would assist you. I hated that immensely. You'd enter the men's clothing section and immediately you could use your peripheral vision to spot a clerk "descending" on you, weaving through the aisles in pursuit of you so he/she could ask "Can I help you?"
Even if you said you were "just looking" - why did we have to say "just?" - you knew the clerk would continue to be aware of your presence. It was a distraction at best. It made me less likely to spend money. I'm sure it even affected my wardrobe. I probably had some social anxiety disorder, but I suspect my feelings about this were shared by many others.
How wonderful we have a Wal-Mart today where we can go and examine clothing without being bothered.
If J.C. Penney goes under as is being predicted by many, I will not notice or care.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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