A family-owned daily newspaper serving Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming since 1949

Weather memories strong links to past

Apr 16, 2017 - By Randy Tucker

A sense of belonging often accompanies the arrival of a storm.

It's a quagmire out there. The kind of conditions you read about in the trenches outside Verdun in World War I after the spring thaw. Fetid, sloppy and complete with that unmistakable sound of "schoop, schoop, schoop" as cattle fight their way through viscous mud to hay.

It's my feed lot, but it's springtime in a microcosm this year for central Wyoming.

Just when we think the sun is going to shine, the rain and snow are going to stop, and the grass is going to explode in a verdant carpet of green, another front comes through.

Weather makes us think of the past. Like a football game, hunting trip or a chance meeting with a person who changes your life, the weather is a marker within our own existence. Extreme weather provides a demarcation in our memories, both collective and personal.

I'm not sure why, but every time a winter rain brings its tiny drops of incredibly invasive moisture I'm taken back to a dark night at my uncle Ralph's house in San Bruno, a suburb of San Francisco.

The north facing window sat in a far corner of their home on the top of a hill. As the rain began to fall, the blackness of the night seemed to exude through the glass. I felt I was becoming one with the storm.

A sense of belonging often accompanies the arrival of a storm.

I've found lightning a remarkable event since my earliest memories. The storms of Arkansas and central California are much different from those that hit us here in the foothills of the Rockies, but they share a lot of commonality.

The most impressive meteorological event in San Francisco is the fog. It has a living presence as it slowly engulfs everything in its path. One of poet Carl Sandberg's most famous works perfectly describes the phenomenon: "The fog comes on little cat feet. It sits looking over harbor and city on silent haunches, and then moves on."

Our fog doesn't do that. It rises from heavy moisture in the ground on a hot summer day or it announces the arrival of winter or spring as our dehydrated air pulls the water from the ground.

One afternoon I was driving through a blanket of fog on my way to Dubois. The fog was thick in Riverton but thinned out as I drove over Griffey Hill, only to return as I dropped back on my way west. The fog remained through Kinnear, Morton and westward but just outside Crowheart the sun broke through on a perfect early winter's day.I stopped my truck, got out and looked back to the east.

A blanket of clouds, the kind you usually only see from an aircraft stretched all the way back to Riverton.It was extraordinary.

Winter rain is very different in taste, texture and smell from its summer cousin.

Winter rain comes in tiny droplets, some so small they are really just mist on steroids. A winter rain starts with a small rise in temperature, often accompanied by a north or northwest wind.

The water gathers in gaggles of microscopic particles, coalescing into drops that eventually run down windows, vehicle hoods, and the noses and ears of those caught outside.

I've never been more saturated than when working outside during a winter rain. I've never been colder, either. The penetrating quality of a winter's rain is inexplicable.

Usually the rain turns to sleet or, more commonly, snow, and the experience of liquid falling from the sky in sub-freezing conditions is quickly replaced by the mundane whiteness of snow.

Summer rain doesn't work that way. Summer rain arrives in a variety of venues. It can come on the cusp of a low-pressure system. In our region that just means a few minutes, or maybe a few hours, of saturating precipitation.

In Arkansas, where my father's family hails from, low pressure like this often builds into something much more sinister in nature's most violent weather phenomenon, the tornado.

Thankfully we don't get many twisters up here a mile above sea level.

We do get gully washers, frog chokers or simple deluges on occasion.

The first hot day of the summer often brings an evening downpour as the moisture sucked from the ground by the blazing sun gathers in the cooler temperatures a few thousand feet above the earth and falls back as a thunderstorm.

Summer rains are a blessing and a curse, depending on their time of arrival and which stage of development a crop is in.

I've been hit in the open while irrigating, driving a tractor or loading hay by hand. The strength of the storm becomes part of you.

As the wind howls, lightning flashes, and the rain begins to pour, I often find myself smiling, and occasionally laughing in joy, as the storm encompasses me. Sometimes it stings, but I don't mind.

You get a sensation of your own mortality, of the frailty of being human, but at the same time you feel the strength in your arms, the will in your heart, and the joy of simply existing.

Baby, the rain must fall.


Editor's note: Staff writer Randy Tucker is a retired public school educator.


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