The women who control the weather

Forget science; a few powerful females are the reason for any hot, cold and rainy extremes we've experienced lately

Paul Douglas and his fellow meteorologists won't admit this, but their whole shtick is just pure theater. Forget pressure systems and Doppler Radar. The weather is actually controlled by a few people, often women, who are mysteriously given the gift of brief, paranormal power.

The ancients understood this. That's why they sometimes threw virgins into volcanoes. Lately, I've witnessed this same gift in Southwest Minneapolis, and let me tell you, it's no small burden.

I first became aware of this phenomenon in my late 20s when I lived in Detroit and Boston. I had bought a small, two-person tent at Target called the Sunbacker. My husband and I were rational people at that time, believing in science, barometric pressure, the whole bit. So the first four or five times we camped in constant rain, we shrugged it off as bad luck.

Except it kept raining. Trip after trip, year after year. We would set up the tent on a clear blue day, not a drop of rain in the forecast, and within hours, the thunderheads would start building. Followed by torrential rains. And flash flood warnings.

One night, lying in the tent, listening to yet another downpour, I had an epiphany: it was the Sunbacker. "This tent doesn't just weather the storm," I told my husband. "It actually causes the storm."

With knowledge comes power. And responsibility. Sometimes I'd read about droughts and famine in Africa and think, we could fix this. We could ship the Sunbacker to local authorities, along with a note. But we were young and self-absorbed. Instead, we just bought a different tent and found ourselves suddenly camping in sunshine again.

Fast-forward through the years. Now we were living in Linden Hills with three small kids who always had ear infections. So

I spent many hours at the neighborhood's now-defunct Butler Drug, discussing antibiotics with Nan, who worked the front cash register, the way some people discuss wine.

Nan was an amazing woman who served as the local village elder. She had raised six or more kids, plus throngs of grandchildren, and thus knew remedies for every illness known to mankind. Plus she could open a Timex watch to replace its batteries -- something trained surgeons with precision tools won't even try -- with thumbnail power alone.

One cold winter day when it seemed we hadn't seen the sun in weeks, I stumbled into Butler Drug for yet another antibiotic for yet another child and wailed, "When will this end? I can't take it any longer. I need sun."

Nan looked up from the counter. "Next Saturday morning, shortly after 9 a.m.," she said quietly.

"But how can you be so sure?"" I asked.

"Because that's when we leave for a month in our Florida condo," she said. "As soon as my husband and I are in the air, the thaw will begin. Happens every year."

Sure enough, that Saturday morning, shortly after 9 a.m., the sun appeared, the winds died down, and the weather turned positively balmy for weeks. It happened the next winter. And the next. "Thank you, Nan," I began to say when she returned from Florida.

"Oh, you're welcome," she said. Nan was always modest about her power, even when customers-in-the-know got impatient and started asking, "Nan, when do you leave for that condo again?" By February, our gratitude had turned sour. "Get out of town, lady," we'd yell into the store. "Just leave!!"

Then, in 1999, Butler Drug of Linden Hills closed, breaking many hearts, especially for those of us who needed Nan for advice, weather forecasting and watch batteries. I stopped thinking about paranormal weather control. Without Nan, what was the use?

Until 2001. Which turned out to be one of the hottest years in the century. Some readers may recall a column I wrote recounting the intense suffering felt by those of us without central air during the summer heat waves. My family of five spent weeks imprisoned in a small bedroom with our lone air-conditioner, playing Monopoly, watching TV, living off pizza and take-out Chinese.

Eventually, I cracked and asked an air-conditioning contractor to come out. His initial estimate was huge, but I was having one of those near-death, out-of-body experiences where I was hovering on the ceiling, watching the contractor and this hot woman discuss duct work. And I heard my own voice say yes, please send us a more detailed bid.

Then heat wave broke. A few months later, I got the bid, but ignored it. As far as I was concerned, the bad dream was over.

But then we started having this endless Indian summer. Warm sunshine. No cold. No snow. At first, it was lovely. But after awhile, it started getting eerie. Hummingbirds spotted at birdfeeders in December. Daffodils blooming in some parks. Yet every morning, I awoke to the insanely cheerful Cathy Wurzer on Minnesota Public Radio, burbling about "another beautiful December day, high 46."

I have nothing personal against Wurzer even though she's clearly a Morning Person who apparently doesn't ski or ice-fish. Sometimes I thought about calling her up and reminding her that global warming was indeed upon us, the polar ice-caps were melting, our own Great Plains would become the new Sahara, so maybe she shouldn't be so very jolly about 46 degrees in December.

But I didn't. Instead I just worried. One morning, lying in bed, listening to Wurzer go into new paroxysms of glee over yet another unseasonably warm forecast, I suddenly remembered our old tent. And I had another epiphany. "Cathy Wurzer isn't just reading the forecast," I told my husband. "I think she's actually causing it."

With knowledge, comes power. And responsibility. But what could an ordinary listener like me really do? Then out of the blue, I got a call from the air-conditioning contractor. He had a crew ready. If we'd start the work now, we'd get a big discount. And I knew.

Nan had once changed the weather. So had Wurzer. Now it was our turn. Yes, an air-conditioning system would cost us the equivalent of a small Volkswagen with less than 10,000 miles on it. But if this sacrifice stopped global warming, brought back winter and restored temperate summers, thereby helping millions of people, wasn't it worth it?

Rationalists will say it's all a coincidence. But the very day the air-conditioning crew arrived at our house, the unseasonably warm weather vanished. After four days of tearing the house apart and putting in ducts, we had snow on the ground. A White Christmas. The lakes freezing over.

As Nan used to say, "You're welcome."

Lynnell Mickelsen is a Linden Hills writer. She can be reached c/o the Southwest Journal or at [email protected]