What's up with the weather?

Posted: Friday, July 02, 2004

On the WaterfrontBy Elton Engstrom

Please don't read this article if it's raining in Juneau today. What is wrong with the weather? I tried to discover the answer by asking one of the official rain makers. I believe the weather service deserves this title because it usually reports that it will be raining tomorrow.

Unusual things are happening. About every 20 years we have had three or four days of 80-degree weather. But the record has been broken, so perhaps we are in a - it's awesome to contemplate - 100-year cycle.

I tried to find where all this is being analyzed and reported. Go out to the Mendenhall Loop Road, just past the turn off to the glacier. There is a modern building with the legend on the sign post that reads: "National Weather Service, Weather Forecast Office." There are about 25 scientists, computer experts and secretaries working there.

The meteorologist in charge is Tom Ainsworth. He is 44, married and has three sons. He was born in Warsaw, N.Y., in Wyoming County.

He says, "The weather pattern we are experiencing is an extremely rare event." As he graphically put it, "We are in a dry pressure cooker centered in Canada, which has spread over the Panhandle." Tom has lived in Alaska for close to two years. He said that "we should enjoy and remember" this spell.

But how can we enjoy it, if we've lived here all our lives, or even for a long, long time?

I always thought that folks became uncomfortable if we had too much sunshine. They begin to desire a little rain. It doesn't have to pour, just mist up and sprinkle.

After all, we are living in a temperate rain forest, one of the few in the world, since most rain forests are tropical. What are we to say to our friends and visitors if this becomes like Miami Beach. Our whole reason for being would be seriously undermined.

There is also a personal problem with so much nice weather.

You become restless and uneasy and tend to bark at your relatives (wives and husbands) and neighbors and lose your equipoise.

Of course we have nothing to really worry about until late July and August. That's when all our fellow creatures return from their long sojourn in the North Pacific. They need lots of water in the creeks and streams to swim home.

I feel like Ishmael did when he roamed the streets of Manhattan in "Moby Dick." I think the good weather probably got him down, and he became depressed, and decided to sign up to go to sea.

Here's what he said.

"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet, and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can."

A friend of mine, Ron Klein, is a marvelous rain maker. He has a particular cure for a stretch of good weather like this. It is to schedule one of his panoramic group shots. Then it is bound to rain.

Just a few days ago he was in Nome. When he arrived it was beautiful, but the next day when he set up his equipment it started to rain. Then it poured. Then it started to snow. Now there's a real rain maker, more powerful than anyone at the local weather forecast office.

• Elton Engstrom is a lifelong Alaskan, retired fish-buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau.

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