Sunday, September 4, 2011
The Charlie Brown Syndrome
I've been watching the weather forecasts unusually closely lately because those of us here in north Texas appear to be on the cusp of an important — and, for most of us, welcome — shift.
I'm speaking of nature's seemingly endless grip of triple–digit temperature readings we've had in this area this summer.
Now, it's been a scorcher across most of the country this summer, as it usually is — and it is always hot in Texas — but the summer of 2011 has been one of those truly extreme summers — like the ones in 1980 and 1998 — that people talk about for years.
Almost without exception, our temperatures this summer have been over 100° every day for more than two months. In Texas, we expect to see some 100° temperatures each summer. But not dozens of them.
There have been a few days when the temperature didn't make it to 100° — and only once, I believe, when it was significantly below 100° — but, most of the time, it has been like a cruel game of bait and switch.
The "bait," in this case, has been the occasional prediction of a daytime high that fell short of 100° or a night–time low that dropped below 80°. The forecasters start speaking of this glimmer of hope about a week ahead of time, when it first appears on the computer models, but the closer we get to the day when it is supposed to happen, the farther back the forecasters push the line until there is nothing left.
That's the "switch," and I have started thinking of it as the Charlie Brown Syndrome.
If you're old enough to remember the "Peanuts" comic strip, it's like those periodic strips when Lucy would con Charlie Brown into trying to kick the football. She insisted that she would hold the ball for him, but, when he agreed to kick it and came running to kick it, she pulled it away at the last second, and he fell flat on his back.
And, as Charlie Brown lay there, flat on his back, Lucy would come up to him with some sort of punchline. Usually, whatever she said managed to both justify her decision to pull the ball away from him just before he could kick it and contradict the argument she had made to convince him — against his better judgment — to try to kick it in the first place.
You always knew what was coming when you saw Lucy with a football. It was a running gag — and a generally harmless one, too (except as far as Charlie Brown was concerned).
Maybe that is what has been so insidious about these sub–100° forecasts. It's been like Lucy's trickery with the football, but it hasn't been harmless.
People have died in the heat wave of 2011, as they do in every heat wave. Utility bills have gone through the roof, adding stress to already overextended household budgets.
There's been some relief in other parts of the country, but Texas has been waiting — not always patiently but waiting nevertheless. And our deliverance may be at hand. Finally.
For about a week, people around here have been told that a cool front is on its way and will bring temperatures down this week.
Yesterday, as usual, temperatures exceeded 100°, but it was 75° when I got up this morning, and it is supposed to be right around 90° for today's high. That's better than it has been, but not where I would like it to be.
Tonight, the forecasters tell us, we will see, temperatures dipping into the low 60s, possibly the upper 50s. We haven't heard those words in four or five months, and we have good reason to be skeptical. But the forecast suggests that this is what we can expect all week — along with temperatures in the 80s — and they haven't been pushing the line back as we have gotten closer to this, our transition day.
The forecasters are predicting a high temperature tomorrow that is lower than the temperature as I write this at 8 a.m. on Sunday. It is currently 86°, and the forecasters say it won't get above 83° tomorrow.