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Weather Almanac for March 1998
March Weather Madness
In a book I was reading recently, the author asked what was the reader's favorite season. I though about this one long and hard before I could come up with an answer. You see, each seasons to me is special. Summer has warm temperatures, thunderstorms and great cumulus cloud development. Fall (or Autumn) has Indian Summer, brilliant colours and the bittersweet transition from summer to winter weather. Winter has blizzards, howling winds, the whiteness of snow and the dazzle of ice. But there is one season that has it all: Spring.
And one month characterizes Spring within its 31 days: March, the unpredictable month, "in like a lion, out like a lamb" -- or the other way around. Not only changes from in and out but, for most areas of North America, extreme changes in a matter of days.
Yesterday, I went out to Island View Beach, a quiet stretch of shoreline in the non-summer months along the southeastern coast of Vancouver Island looking toward the continent, to inhale the clean marine air in hopes of finding inspiration. The weather was excellent for expanding my consciousness. The sky was mostly clear -- a few cumuli hovered over the Gulf Islands -- winds were light and the sun, but two weeks shy of equinox, warming. The only massing of clouds shaded the Malahat, the ridge forming the western limit of the Saanich Inlet fjord.
The day, not the place, awakened memories of early March days in northeastern Illinois, the home of my youth. There, March can have you out loosening your arm for the coming baseball season one day and then straining your back shoveling snow the next. Birds and blossoms are never sure about March in that part of the world.
I recall in particular one day when the first breezes of warm, moist air born over the Gulf of Mexico tapped at our window, seeking entrance. We acceded to its sweetness, throwing open windows and doors to drive out winter staleness for the promise of the blossom wind. We sat and just inhaled, clearing our lungs and heads as if awakening from a winter's nap -- for indeed we were.
Later than afternoon, clouds appeared on the western horizon -- not the fluffy white of daytime cumulus but a form more ominous. The warm winds freshened, blowing the window curtains in rolling waves, clattering to attract our attention. Wind, cloud and a falling barometer signaled change embodied in those dusky clouds on the horizon.
Viewing the atmosphere on a larger scale than encompassed by my living room window would have revealed the rapid approach of a very cold air mass from the Canadian Prairies. This mass joined the northward flow of Gulf of Mexico-bred air in a torrid dance along a thousand kilometre front. In Oklahoma the dance became a destructive polka, but I would not hear this news for many hours.
What I saw outside my window was the local expression of the boundary between the air masses. Here, warm, moist air was being rapidly lifted and given a spin, converting vapours first into cloud droplets and then into ice crystals and raindrops. The turmoil of the dance billowed toward the heavens, tearing atoms asunder in the process, leaving some electron-thin and others electron-fat. The soft static on my radio warned me of the increasing tempo of the dance and the pull to restore an equilibrium of electrical potential.
Several hours later, just as the hidden sun exited, my intimate atmosphere filled with rain. Large, cold drops -- some becoming ice pellets -- tapped across the window glass as the warm air exited Stage East. Lightning -- intermittent in appearance and scattered across the sky stage -- and thunder -- rumbling softly like a stomach in need of a good meal -- punctuated the interlude overture as the new cast was ushered in for Act Two.
A close spray of lightning introduced the beginning of the next act, revealing that rain no longer fell around us. Instead, large conglomerates of snowflakes danced in the wind, their mass muffling the following rumbles of thunder, like sneezes into a blanket. The featured pairs of lightning and thunder mixed incongruously with fluffy snow for several hours before fading into the background. Dancing, rushing, swirling snow took over and continued through the night. The raucous northwest wind howling around the corners, whistling through the flue and rattling the windows demanded entry -- a venue we had earlier denied by resealing the window sashes.
By morning the ground blanket of spent dancers measured 10 cm in thickness, hiding the grass and the pioneer daffodils along the south wall of the garage. The buzz of active energy, which had dominated my spirit but 24 hours earlier, ducked back into its winter burrow, and I returned to a semi-dormant state. I lit a small fire in the fireplace and watched with sympathy the little brown wrens, who yesterday also twittered with energy while searching for seed or perhaps nest building materials, huddled amongst the balsam fir branches away from the biting winds and cold white cover.
Such is the nature of March -- a two-faced month looking back on the icy blasts of winter and forward toward the promised bounty of summer. The wandering jet stream shuffles clearly distinct atmospheric elements to produce the weather hands that play across March and give it its unrivaled individuality among the brood of twelve. March has a predisposition for extremes, juggling gentle summer breezes today with wintery gales tomorrow amidst exploding bursts of energy.
MARCH: a chorus of 31 voices accompanied by an orchestra of elements and energies and a cast of a thousand clouds. A pride of Lions lying among a flock of Lambs.
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