The Suddenly Uncertain Skill of Predicting the Weather

Wunderground has been my chosen meteorologic authority since shortly after its inception as a web presence.  Not only was I drawn to the name—a tongue in cheek contraction of words recalling one of the late sixties’ more radical political groups, the Weather Underground—but in those early days, their prediction of weather events was appreciably accurate.  All things with a beginning inherently have an end, though, don’t they?

And we’re in an age, I’ll call it, when turmoil seems to be the dominant presence surrounding us as the first quarter of the twenty-first century verifies this wind change—not just on the web, but in all of life.  Weather, an historical uncertainty all along, has become even more so, making its prediction significantly more difficult.  After all, the science of this prediction has always been a finely tuned blend of observing prevailing patterns and their interplay with the mathematics of probability—gambling, really.  The quality of turmoil that makes it so unsettling to us, is that it represents a phase of change that lacks any semblance of familiarity.  The human mind hates such conditions.  Which suggests that the meteorologic community isn’t too happy with it either.

In alignment with so many other ‘realities’ being shaken loose, I don’t give Wunderground much attention these days.   Yes, it’s just as good as the others, but weather reports are simply not a good investment of attention.  The habitual part of me, though, does take a look on the iPad occasionally when I sense that we’re about to experience yet another surprise—especially when a surprise could affect the outcome of the day’s activities.

This week my day’s ‘activities’ have centered around replacing one of  three engine fans on a paradoxical piece of karma I’ve chosen, in the form of an automobile.  I won’t bother to explain that now—you’ll have to rely on inference.  As they so often do, this particular task, which ‘should’ involve hours, has consumed days.  Happily, I am working in the garage—a luxury, without which I would have abandoned this car long ago—but this well-built structure, too, is susceptible to the vagaries of unpredictable weather.


A background curiosity of post-solstice life in the central New Mexico highlands this year is wondering when, or if, the traditional onset of summer monsoons will arrive.  I can recall, having just arrived in Santa Fe in the early eighties, when wagering on July fourth as being the precise moment of that shift yielded astonishingly good returns.  No more.

This year, accompanied by the observation of never seen before arrivals and departures of birds and other creatures in our lives here, it’s anybody’s guess.  And Wunderground is hedging its bets on ‘not anytime soon’—but covers itself with a steady, meaningless string of 20% chances of precipitation, hoping against appearances that rain just might show up.

Today, encountering yet another quandary in the car project, my mind suggested we take a look at Wunderground as a possible way of diverting attention from the car’s obstinance, while waiting to be shown a simple way of negotiating it and getting on with the task.  In futile defense of my increasingly worthless intelligence, I should explain my choice in dealing with this fan, which, more reliably than the weather, explodes approximately every four to five years—more often than not, taking the radiator with it.  Rather than a simple replacement with another identical time-bomb, I’m going for a fairly more adventurous custom solution with a higher promise of longevity.  One which my independent Audi shop refused to do at my request four years ago.

With still, clear blue being the dominant view from our ponderosa-limited allotment of the sky, I was surprised to see a weather alert.  But it was specific to the Jemez caldera, far to the north, and slightly west of us.  Interesting.  Unlikely to affect our day.  After all, I took the time to check Wunderground’s often highly informative radar map.  Nothing but a small blip between the caldera and Los Alamos.  Nothing else on the map.

Getting back to the car, access to what’s left of the fan requires going as deep as replacement of the timing belt—a name whose irony has never hit me until this moment.  At least that’s required for the solution I’ve chosen for getting the car back on the road.  And the car’s position in the garage is not its usual, either, having been deposited there by the tow truck which brought it and me here from Corrales, where the fan sang its swan song as I was uncharacteristically, but gratefully, moseying around a corner at twenty miles an hour, undoubtedly sparing the radiator.

But, today, the car is facing outward, and facing as well, a door which has been the scene of flooding in recent memory.  All my tools have migrated from the other end of the garage to the floor in front of the disassembled car.  This faintly dystopian orientation has initiated other uncharacteristic behavior, like carefully and consciously choosing how and where to orchestrate this new way of working on the car.  You can see where this is going.


By the time it began to rain, wind had picked up as well, prompting me, working in shorts and a light shirt, to partially close the garage door to keep from getting rained on.  But the surprising spray blowing on my ankles suggested I close it completely—as completely as possible.  Squirrels, over the decades, have gnawed through half of the rubber gasket at the door’s bottom.  It’s only recently that this has become a problem—Sue, in a couple of years, has done a stunningly efficient job of clearing the property of squirrels.  I stubbornly kept my attention on progress with my project—as long as I could.

“Good Lord!”, I thought, as the storm began to express its intentions.  Suddenly the possibility of flooding entered my awareness.  Here we are on high ground at 7400’ in the Manzano foothills, and since last summer, flooding has become a very real possibility on two parts of the property.  Now, it’s been reluctant to rain at all, least of all today, yet we are now experiencing a full-on manifestation of monsoon weather!  I haven’t yet become accustomed to the reality that water management may require more attention.

Dashing to the house, I grabbed a hardshell, and ran back with some tools to the front of the garage, where a large accumulation of water was already present.  The mechanics of this flooding were suddenly obvious to me.  The slow, but relentless accumulation of dirt, blown by wind, which eventually buries all civilizations, had gone unnoticed until now, when the level of the driveway was actually higher than the garage floor.  Not much, but enough to push excess rainfall into that corner of the garage.  Duh.

So I hacked and flailed at the heart of the issue, grateful that the wind had shifted 180˚, leaving me in a rain shadow large enough to work in a relatively protected area.  Slowly, racing to outpace the accumulation of water, I made progress creating a temporary ditch in the rock hard driveway adjoining the concrete floor of the garage.  I worked until I was certain that water accumulation would sufficiently drain away from the door.  It took far less time than anticipated—isn’t that the way with things we’ve procrastinated?

The hardshell was performing well, but the unabated torrent had soaked the bottom of my shorts, exposed while hacking away at the driveway, so I set my tools inside, and joined Sue who stood in the front door, observing all this… excitement. 

I went inside and changed my clothes—not for the last time today—as we wondered over the storm outside.  Then I noticed the other area of flood susceptibility.  And it, too, was already in full swing.

So, this time, running outside in the hardshell and no pants, I painstakingly cleared the drain I installed last year for this very purpose.  As I pulled debris away, and shortsightedly threw it uphill, I was astounded at the amount of water surging into the 70’ drain line I had hand dug to a depth of three feet in this amazingly rockless, yet still unyielding soil.  If it works as planned, I intend to plant a thirsty tamarisk at its far end.

By this time, I was ready to relax a bit and have a late lunch.  I took my time, enjoying it as I mused over the day so far.  By the time this one hour/one inch storm had begun to back off, I changed clothes again and headed for the garage.  (For those of you who may not know, Oriental medicine attaches names of environmental factors, such as Wind, Cold, Heat, Dampness, etc., to pathological factors which are the cause of disease.  Dampness is a relatively difficult condition to treat, brought on by, you guessed it—dampness.  And standing, sitting, or working in damp clothes makes us susceptible to those pathological effects.)  

Separating the viscous fan clutch from its direct engine drive is a task that claims many victims of timing belt replacements on this car.  Prior experience had been quite different, and it had come off quickly, once I devised a strategy. 

Larry, engulfed in the maw of the Audi, getting ready to pop the driver's side camshaft pulley.
Getting ready to pop the driver’s side camshaft pulley into yet another uncertainty.

This time, dealing with the work done by the aforementioned shop which would only consent to replacing the OEM fan with another, I encountered a different set of circumstances.  Sparing you details, I was surprised to realize I was exhausted by six thirty, with karma undiminished.

I put on my respirator, snugged it up, and gave the 32mm nut on the fan an unhealthy dose of PB Blaster to let it soak overnight in its own karma.

It felt good to go inside, remove my clothes one last time and get clean.  Later, walking outside to turn off the garage lights, I was greeted with one of those lovely, unexpected phenomena which I nonetheless forget until gifted with it once again: the inimitably soothing sound of hundreds of perennial frogs singing in harmony and waves of glee for the water that annually releases them for a brief period from their dormancy at the bottom of otherwise dry ponds in our neighborhood—one on either side of us.  The night air was filled with their joyful, unified, and pinpointed celebration of momentary freedom.  What a reflection!

I so relate to that song, and to being reminded of it nearly every year.  I anticipate that one of these years I won’t have forgotten, and will have joined them—in spirit.





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