Strange weather we have

Published 8:01 pm Friday, January 5, 2007

This past month we’ve seen some unusual weather, from the coldest days in several years, to more fog than I can remember seeing in December. Is it time to panic, over things like Global Warming, Holes in the Ozone Layer, Greenhouse Effects, Heartbreak of Psoriasis, or Lyme Disease?

Naw, it ain’t. Now and then we just have some strange weather to contend with, and we will again, too. I was coming home from Choir practice one night before Christmas, and the fog was really heavy, visibility only a couple hundred yards. Halfway to Brownspur, I suddenly became aware of a lot of illumination that wasn’t my headlights, though the fog was, if anything, even thicker where I was driving, along the Bogue Phalia banks. I glanced up, puzzled, to see the full moon beaming down upon me! Yet I could barely catch fuzzy glimpses of the light poles on the roadside as I passed them. What was going on?

Obviously the fog was thick, but only maybe ten feet high. The moon was unobscured as it shone down upon the fog bank. Man, what would an airplane pilot think, trying to land a plane in this?! I could never recall seeing this effect, so I pulled off on a turnrow to get out and observe for a few minutes. What a wondrous effect it was, the light of the full moon shining on a layer of thick fog!

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Some of the strangest weather I ever was caught in was when a thunderstorm hit one cold day in the woods. I had caught glimpses of the cloudbank rolling in, and thought this’un might be worth not getting caught outside in, so I was high-tailing it for our jeep, The Ghost, when it hit: sleet! I was huddled up to the offside of a big pecan tree, as terrifying thunder and lighting rocked the woods, in the midst of the heaviest sleet storm I have ever seen. It lasted probably 15 minutes.

Those of us who hunt on the Mississippi River have a high degree of respect for fog, and I have been caught in sudden fog banks on the Mighty Muddy that make for a powerful pucker factor when you can only tell upstream from down by the bellowing foghorns of unseen riverboats that can make your own little 14-footer disappear in a hurry, along with you! Yet the scariest I have been on the River was when I ventured out on the darkest, inside-of-a-cow’s-belly midnight I’d ever seen. No moon, no stars, and, Stupid with no flashlight! Luckily, I was headed downstream, and sooner or later, I found a nightlight at a landing.

But I was even scareder — maybe even what the Bible calls “sore afraid” — a few years before during a similar night on an even bigger body of water. We were a 45-ship convoy sailing under wartime conditions — darken ship and no electronic emissions. That means no radar or radio, Bubba. Station-keeping for the Officer of the Deck, which I was on the midwatch on my helicopter carrier, was fairly easy by day, but made for a considerable pucker factor at night, unless there was a moon, which there had been every other night of the voyage — until tonight. I was standing on the starboard wing of the bridge facing aft, straining my eyes for a glimpse of another ship, when a man to my immediate left lit a cigarette, a clear violation of the Admiral’s darken ship orders!

Problem was, he was aboard another ship! A fleet tanker, matter of fact. My own starboard lookout was standing next to me, bug-eyed as I’m sure I was. I leaned into the bridge door and calmly ordered, “Steer two degrees port,” which was acknowledged just as calmly by the helmsman, “Two degrees port, aye, Sir.”

Turning to my lookout, I asked, “Sailor, do you have a lighter?” He whispered back, “Yessir.” I said, “Flick it, now!” He did that, and we both heard a gasp from the nearby smoker, who then flashed his lighter back at us. My lookout spent the next ten minutes flicking his lighter as two terrified OODs eased their 100,000-ton ships gradually apart. I ordered us back to base course when our intervals increased, then sent my lookouts to take station on the port and starboard elevators, with orders to smoke regularly until they were relieved!

Strange weather we have sometimes, but that’s part of life. Just don’t panic. All you can do is be prepared for it, like filling the bathtubs, for flushing water!