The rain storm

The average annual temperature in St. Louis, according to Wikipedia,  is 56.3 degrees Fahrenheit. The average annual precipitation is just a hair under 39 inches; compare that to Seattle,  which gets just a hair over 37.

It doesn’t sound bad at all, if only it were  spread out across the seasons. The problem is that St. Louis weather specializes in extremes: cold in winter,  hot (and sticky) in summer,  with torrential rains that swell waterways and despoil basements,  too often followed by pitiless droughts that threaten crops and rosebushes,  and turn lawns into spiky brown wastelands. (This message was not brought to you by the Chamber of Commerce.)

We’ve had three enervating weeks of triple-digit heat indices,  three weeks of mercilessly blazing sun and barely a cloud in the sky. Our efforts to keep our plantings watered have kept them alive,  but nothing is really flourishing except weeds and strangler vines. The number of blossoms on the Rose of Sharon bush outside the kitchen window, usually covered with blooms at this time of year,  barely numbered a dozen.

Then clouds piled up in the western sky. The sun was briefly blocked, and we enjoyed a blessed hour of steady rain.

It cooled things off for a span. More than that,  three hours later I glanced at the Rose of Sharon,  and discovered,  to my amazement and delight,  that it was suddenly covered with tiny green flower buds,  swelling almost as I watched.

The weather is back on its sauna setting,  and more triple digits are forecast. Still,  the plants are making the most of this brief respite,  greening up and taking strength from the soaking. Faithful care and resilience have their rewards,  and the Rose of Sharon will bloom again.

– Sarah Bryan Miller

Snow days

…Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
– Luke 12:25

The first storm had something of the air of an out-of-control Hollywood production: hyped to the hilt, every element examined, it benefited from the news non-judgment of some in the broadcast media (Snowpocalypse! The storm of the century! Don’t dare drive! Be sure to wear shoes with treads!), who chose to dwell endlessly on the threat of bad weather rather than report on, say, the genuinely serious situation in the Middle East.

The real thing failed to stand up to critical scrutiny, however; the forecast fell short of the actuality. It was a serious storm, but when you’ve been promised Snowmageddon, some ice, sleet, and a half foot of snow are bound to disappoint. Give it two stars, for the budget if nothing else.

The second storm slipped quietly into town, unheralded by meteorologists and excitable TV and radio personalities alike. There were no runs on supermarkets; we just awoke on Saturday morning and there it was, hiding the newspapers in the driveway and adding a little too much zest to driving conditions. It was like the little independent film that comes out of nowhere to win a “Best Picture” Oscar nomination. Give it three stars, for style.

We have a tendency to build up our fears – to exaggerate how bad things might be, to worry about things we can’t control – when the sensible thing is to prepare as best we can and then move on. Keep things in perspective. And if you’re in the Midwest in February, it’s a good idea to carry a scraper in the trunk of your car. You never know when it might snow.

– Sarah Bryan Miller

Advent weather

The sky is a glorious blue and sunshine is pouring into the house. It isn’t having much effect on the snow lying in the garden, however, because outside the temperature is just below freezing. For the past few days it’s looked like a scene from a Christmas card out there, pristine and gleaming, every twig of every tree coated in sparkling white.

Now this may not sound terribly interesting in places where winter strikes with routine predictability, local authorities are well prepared for it, and everyone knows what to expect.  Other countries cope with ice and snow without a murmur.

But I live in the middle of England, where we rarely have two days the same.  What gives British weather its unique charm is the fact that no one knows what’s going to happen next – not even, it often seems, the venerable Met Office, which has been hard at work issuing severe weather warnings for the past couple of weeks.

So it was that at the end of November, which is normally dark, wet, and gloomy, we woke up to find a blanket of snow over the country. Normally we don’t get snow till late December or January, and some years we don’t get any at all this far south, but this year it appeared, like the Spanish Inquisition, when no one was expecting it. We’ve had motorways blocked, schools closed, trains cancelled, and general chaos – and indeed in Scotland, much harder hit than most of England, they still have all of the above.

The Met Office has three levels of warning for severe weather: be aware, be prepared, and take action. They seem oddly appropriate to Advent, to the time of waiting and watching for whatever it is that’s coming, the unexpected ways that God breaks into our lives. “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”

– Margaret Z. Wilkins

Light show

God understandeth the way thereof, and he knoweth the place thereof…
When he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the lightning of the thunder:
Then did he see it, and declare it; he prepared it, yea, and searched it out.
And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the LORD, that is wisdom…

– Job 28:23, 26-28

There was a light sprinkle of rain and an offstage rumble of thunder as my friend Patty and I left the concert, a sprinkle that quickly turned into a heavy rain, with serious lightning flashing out to the west. By the time I got her home, the rain was pelting down hard.

Once back on the highway, the downpour was almost too much for the windshield wipers, and I longed for the superior control of a stick shift as small waves blowing across the road made handling insecure. I turned off my Good Christian Music (a fine collection of English church anthems), put on the flashers, slowed to a safer pace, and found myself leading a small parade of the cautious, all with their own flashers working, in the far right lane.

Visibility on the interstate heading south was miserable. The only illumination came from the spectacular lightning flashes crackling all around, and a brief hail shower made things still more interesting. I focused on my driving and some heartfelt prayer until at last I made it home. From the porch, I could finally enjoy the light show, as thunder rattled the windows.

Some of those highway prayers were for driving safety, for myself and others on the road. Some were for those who would suffer as a result of the storm, from flooding or power outages; a tempest like this one always has consequences.

We have so many tools and can control so many things that were beyond our ancestors’ knowing that sometimes we imagine we control it all. As author Arthur C. Clarke put it in his Third Law of Prediction, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and each of us deals matter-of-factly every day with wonders that would have amazed even the most science-oriented optimists of a few generations ago. We expect the world to fall into line.

We don’t control it all, of course – not the winds and the rain, not the lightning, not the movement of the tectonic plates beneath our feet. Even now, with radar and satellites to show us the path of the storm as it hurls itself at us, with scientific names for different kinds of clouds and lightning, the best we can really do in its face is prepare, pray, and be mindful of the One who created all.

– Sarah Bryan Miller