CAN YOU BE­LIEVE THIS WEATHER?

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY DAVID “MAS” MASUMOTO

That used to be a way to start a con­ver­sa­tion, but now it’s be­come loaded with po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic bag­gage.

What do you think of this weather? Can you be­lieve this weather? You hear about the weather in ...?

This is how I love to be­gin a con­ver­sa­tion, espe­cially with strangers. I grew up on a farm and in a ru­ral com­mu­nity, and th­ese daily ex­changes were part of the cul­ture of a place. Fam­i­lies de­pended on the weather for their liveli­hood and well­be­ing. Ask­ing about the weather was the proper greet­ing and salu­ta­tion. It also car­ried a deeper sig­nif­i­cance: It im­plied that you cared enough to ask and strike up a con­ver­sa­tion.

I can even re­call weather be­ing in­ter­wo­ven into a spring fu­neral. When they low­ered the cas­ket into the ground, farm­ers craned their necks slightly to see how deep the win­ter rains had soaked into the ground. They were cal­cu­lat­ing when the vines or trees needed their first ir­ri­ga­tion.

The in­her­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics of weather — un­pre­dictable, chang­ing, wide­spread and vis­ceral na­ture — all con­trib­ute to up­heaval in our world to­day. In our mod­ern lifestyles, we be­lieve we can con­trol our lives. Tech­nol­ogy has em­pow­ered us to ma­nip­u­late and over­see the world. Ex­cept the weather.

We farm­ers have long ago ac­cepted this seem­ingly in­com­pat­i­ble du­al­ity. Agri­cul­ture has al­ways been based on a ma­nip­u­la­tion of na­ture. We plant seeds, we tend to plants, we ir­ri­gate and choose when to har­vest. But weather will wreak havoc with loss of work and com­pli­ca­tions in sched­ules. A wet spring will launch dis­eases on peaches and nec­tarines. A warm win­ter re­duces the re­quired chill hours and in­flu­ences the qual­ity of stone fruit. A rain on raisins will de­stroy the year’s work try­ing to dry from grapes into cured morsels of sweet­ness. His­tor­i­cal winds will top­ple trees and snap branches as we re­al­ize why some trees were al­ways planted down­wind of the typ­i­cal storm in our val­ley, thus avoid­ing farm­houses and barns.

Yet we strug­gle even with the lan­guage of weather. We can­not com­pre­hend when a 100-year flood oc­curs in back-to­back years. We for­get that the ac­cu­rate in­ter­pre­ta­tion is that ev­ery year we have the po­ten­tial of a 100-year phe­nom­ena, a 1% chance that might hap­pen two years in a row. In­stead, we in­ter­pret it as if only once in a hun­dred years bad weather hap­pens. Na­ture doesn’t work that way.

To­day, weather car­ries ex­ten­sive eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal bag­gage. With bad weather, pro­duc­tiv­ity falls im­me­di­ately and con­sumer spend­ing drops. Peo­ple can’t get to work, and they don’t go out shop­ping. Iron­i­cally, lo­cal sales may tem­po­rar­ily in­crease as con­sumers buy emer­gency sup­plies like water and batteries. Higher util­ity bills will be felt weeks later with the next bill. The clean­ing up from dam­age will stim­u­late re­gional economies with repair and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. Com­mu­ni­ties may bond and a shared sol­i­dar­ity and unity can ini­tially fol­low ad­verse weather. A nat­u­ral dis­as­ter cuts across class, eth­nic and geo­graphic bound­aries.

Yet the talk about weather has mor­phed into a jumble of po­lit­i­cally strained ex­changes, re­sult­ing in dis­cord and es­trange­ment. Weather­re­lated crises spur de­bate about emer­gency re­lief ef­forts, such as FEMA and the role gov­ern­ment plays. Peo­ple who hate gov­ern­ment sud­denly turn to gov­ern­ment for dis­as­ter re­lief and help. Even weather re­port­ing be­comes con­tentious — espe­cially when a cautionary forecast is made and the storm peters out or the weather does not strike at full force. In­stead of re­lief, peo­ple re­sent the false alarm and then don’t take heed of the next warn­ing. The re­sult is potentiall­y greater ex­pense and re­sources re­quired when the next weather cri­sis strikes. And who foots the bill?

Weather con­ver­sa­tions of­ten ex­plode with a flurry of emo­tions when you men­tion “cli­mate change.” Weather pol­i­tics stirs opin­ion and de­bate, whether cli­mate change is real, how should we re­spond, who is re­spon­si­ble. The ar­gu­ments per­me­ate na­tional, state and lo­cal pol­i­tics. It’s not just opin­ion: Re­search and re­ports fill our minds and then feed opin­ions. Weather is no longer a sim­ple forecast of sunny days or rainy clouds. Cli­mate change ac­com­pa­nies ev­ery cloud or drought or ex­treme weather pat­tern and fore­casts a charged po­lit­i­cal cli­mate.

I can­not ig­nore the fact that our val­ley weather is

no longer as con­sis­tent as when I grew up. If any­thing, volatil­ity is the new re­al­ity, ex­tremes are a fact of life, such as record­break­ing May rains or heat spells that will in­evitably strike this com­ing sum­mer. Farm­ing with this new na­ture be­comes even more chal­leng­ing and di­vi­sive. I wish I could add a cli­mate change assess­ment to my or­ganic peaches and nec­tarines. I’d use the funds to help ed­u­cate all: un­cer­tainty and un­pre­dictabil­ity is the new nor­mal in the present and not some­thing in a dis­tant fu­ture. The clouds of change are ap­proach­ing. Get used to it and its im­pact on what we eat: food.

Weather used to be a uni­fy­ing topic, the ba­sis for con­ver­sa­tions. When learn­ing a new lan­guage, of­ten ques­tions and re­sponses about weather be­come train­ing tools. It’s a safe way to en­gage with oth­ers and strangers, a pub­lic act that’s lost in to­day’s pri­vate dig­i­tal world. It’s part of a con­ver­sa­tion starter, a con­nec­tive force be­tween two in­di­vid­u­als be­cause weather af­fects all of us.

I miss talk­ing with peo­ple about weather. It was a sim­ple method to en­gage, start a re­la­tion­ship, fill in awk­ward si­lences. Weather talk helps us over­come so­cial in­hi­bi­tions and demon­strate that we care about each other. So look up from your phone or de­vice and ask about the weather and mix in a lit­tle about eco­nomics, pol­i­tics and, most im­por­tantly, sto­ries about life.

How’s the weather af­fect­ing you? Are you un­der the weather? Did you get wind of some news? Come rain or shine, we need to be neigh­bors and need to find a way to en­gage with strangers. So stay dry and cool, and let’s talk.

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA [email protected]­nobee.com

Pa­cific Gas & Elec­tric hy­drol­o­gist Ted Baker crosses a meadow in Black­cap Basin in show­shoes check­ing snow depth and water con­tent March 25 in the Sierra Na­tional For­est east of Cour­tright Reservoir. Black­cap Basin is at 10,300 feet.

JIM BECKEL AP

Heavy rain over­whelmed stormwa­ter drainage sys­tems and caused flooded streets Thurs­day in the west­ern part of the Ok­la­homa City area. City of­fi­cials say about 600 Tulsa County homes and busi­ness were in­un­dated dur­ing last week's his­toric flooding along the swollen Arkansas River.

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