Weather science has its place, but experience is a better guide

March 01, 1998|By Jacques Kelly

GIVEN HOW waterlogged this battleship-gray winter has been, tomorrow ought to be a cause for celebration. That's the day our sunset breaks the magic 6 o'clock barrier, meaning there's still some light at drive time and maybe a little left over for the hour of meatloaf or pizza.

I hoard the daylight hours now that our days are slowly getting longer. All I have to do is be patient until the first Saturday in April, when daylight-saving time ushers in its windfall of evening light.

That'll temporarily cheat the morning, but morning seems to take care of itself. As much as I need those extra minutes of light in the evening, I'm not always as enthusiastic about dawn splashing rays in my face at the hour of reveille.

There's a proven science to this weather stuff, but I prefer my own rules. One of them concerns Feb. 22, the day we used to celebrate as George Washington's birthday. I can recall some cold 22nds and some snowy ones. But make no mistake: On that day, the back of Baltimore's winter is broken.

You can't put your winter coat away yet -- my magic date for that is April 18, although I forget why -- but the sharpness in the air is gone. And it's that biting edge, along with the darkness, that gives winter its kick.

Another seasonal marker occurs today, March 1. That's when I usually notice that the birds have returned. They'll be getting more vocal every morning now. It's a sound I long to hear, no matter when it comes.

One of my other methods of gauging a season involves the morning ritual of darting across the front porch to scoop up the paper. I can judge the day, week and month by the temperature at that hour.

I know this has been an exceptionally mild winter because I've never been tempted to put on bedroom slippers. In the summer, I know it's going to be a wicked day if it's already hot when I scoot out for the daily dose of news.

One of the most welcome dividends of the weather we've been having this winter arrived in my back yard last week. Some brilliant botanical color exploded in little outbursts down the walk.

Years ago, I received a box of February Gold daffodil bulbs from my friend Eleanor Miles, whose Queenstown garden is filled with these beauties. They've been in the ground for 15 years now and have never bloomed in the second month of the year. There have been slow winters when they didn't make an entrance until March 12 or so.

This year, however, they popped as promised, on the wet morning of Feb. 23. They arrived a few days after the after the crocuses, which came to call after the snowdrops, which also arrived on schedule -- before the last of the Christmas cut greens had been given a proper burial.

Along with the piles of unsold snow shovels and bags of salt in the hardware store, there is another way to tell this has been a no-show winter. My old chimney doesn't draw as well when the temperature outside is above 50 degrees. I think I've only used the fireplace half a dozen times this winter -- even though I laid in all sorts of locust twigs and other burnables that still beg to be consumed.

Earlier this winter, I made the real boo-boo and failed to open the damper for what seemed like just a few seconds. The living room filled with smoke. Then the stagnant, moist air that's been sitting on Baltimore since October conspired to contain that burned-wood odor inside my house for weeks. My first spring-cleaning chore is going to be cleaning out that hearth.

So now that I've declared winter over -- and there's daylight until 6 p.m. -- let me make a few more weather observations. We're now heading into the eye of late winter-spring miasma period, when we anticipate far more warmth than we actually get.

Still, I love the cool, light-filled evenings we get in March, if it doesn't rain or snow. And I enjoy the young, fresh air -- this time when my neighbors haven't yet mustered the energy to drag out grills that foul the air with burning starter fluid.

It is also the time of the spring thaw -- a wonderful season in Baltimore. I stock up on sinus pills -- and rulers to measure the depth of seeping basement water.

Pub Date: 3/01/98

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