El Nino, La Nina: It's muy confusing

Friday, July 20, 2012

The economy's rival as the biggest topic these days is the weather.

Of course, the weather.

There is hardly a conversation anywhere, anytime that doesn't, at a minimum, make some reference to the weather.

"Hot today."

"Sure could use some rain."

"Can you believe this humidity?"

Despite the nationwide drought, there have been some significant storms, even in our area. But they are so spotty that friends across town look at you like you're crazy.

"You had half an inch? We didn't have a drop."

Tuesday afternoon it started thundering over our house. The clouds were menacing. A half-darkness spread over the neighborhood. One neighbor joined me in the street to listen to the thunder.

"Sure sounds good," I said.

"Sure would sound better if it would rain," said my neighbor.

Not more than a mile away, friends were standing on their porches watching a downpour.

Go figure.

The weather experts say our drought is the result of La Nina, a mass of cold water in Pacific that pushes the jet stream north and prevents storms from blowing across the country.

I don't know what any of that means, except the experts seem to think they've answered all our questions. They haven't, of course.

They say the Pacific is trending toward another El Nino, which would allow more storms across the U.S. They suggest we will see the full impact of this by late fall.

Great. Just in time for winter storms. Ice. Sleet. Snow.

Winter moisture will be welcome, I'm sure, after our drought. But we would rather have rain when crops need it the most. That's just not the case this year.

I remember another widespread drought in the 1950s. The pastures on our Killough Valley farm in the Ozarks over yonder all dried up. We didn't have enough hay for the Angus cattle to make it through the summer. Every livestock farmer in the area was looking for hay to buy. The closest we could find was in the middle of Illinois.

So we took off in our big hay truck, crossing into Illinois at Cape Girardeau. By the time we got to the flat prairie of central Illinois, we had been driving for hours. It was the first time I had ever been anywhere without hills, and the unending evenness of the terrain made for a big knot in my stomach. I am probably the only person ever to get carsick while driving on straight, flat roads.

That same year we also had to load a 500-gallon tank on the truck and go fetch water for the cattle. The ponds were all dry. We would go a few miles to the next valley, which had a dependable spring. We would pump water into the tank, haul it to the farm and pump it into a large metal bin for the cows. Every day. For several weeks.

Before the drought ended, our cistern went dry, and we filled buckets on the back porch to use for drinking, washing up and laundry.

During that drought, I remember a day when, like Tuesday of this week, there were water-laden clouds darkening the sky and thunder booming across Killough Valley. Some promising sprinkles splattered onto the dusty garden next to the farmhouse, and we thought our prayers had been answered.

The following Saturday we went to town to do the weekly shopping, and someone at Toney's Rexall Drug Store asked my mother if we got any rain from the storm that week.

"We had a six-inch rain," my mother said.

I look at her with wide eyes and open mouth. I had never, ever heard my mother lie before.

'But ... but ... but ... " I sputtered.

My mother, without batting an eye, held here hands up in front of here. "Yes, the raindrops were six inches apart."

That's what we got out of Tuesday's thunderstorm. Another six-inch rain.

No lie.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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