Jewish World Review Jan. 14, 2005 / 4 Shevat, 5765
Girl's attention in class a life-saver
Weather alert machines are good, weather forecasters are, well, usually
reliable, but in some cases, your own eyes and brain aren't bad either.
Tilly Smith, a 10-year-old British girl, vacationing with her
family on a Thai island, recognized the signs of an impending tsunami from
her geography class. Watching the abrupt withdrawal of the tide and small
bubbles forming on the beach, she recalled her teacher saying there was
about ten minutes from the time the ocean recedes and a tsunami strikes.
Tilly immediately alerted her "mummy," the beach and a neighboring
hotel were hastily evacuated, and perhaps saving hundreds of lives.
Tilly has forever answered that age-old question asked by every school
child since the beginning of the overhead projector: "How will I ever use
this in real life?"
In "The Children's Blizzard," David Laskin's retells the story of an epic
blizzard that spanned the Dakota Territories, Nebraska and Minnesota.
January 13, 1888 began as a balmy day and ended with the temperatures of 25
below zero, blinding ice and snow and hurricane-force winds.
Homesteaders, new to the "land they loved, but did not
understand," were inexperienced at reading the open-prairie and expansive
skies. None had the benefit of a geography class like little Tilly or the
hand-me-down wisdom of generations before them.
Some who survived The Children's Blizzard (so named because many
of the 500 who would be dead by morning were children on their way home
from school) knew a thing or two about the pattern of blizzards. A blizzard
is like a baby crying, recounted one survivor. There is the initial blast,
then a momentary lull in which the storm pauses and the baby is quiet as
they both suck in more air for the second round. During that brief pause in
the storm, a few homesteaders were able to save livestock and make their
way to shelter.
Few of us know such things today. We rely on crawlers at the bottom of the
television screen and color maps in the newspaper. We don't cancel outdoor
plans based on a red sky at morning being a sailor's warning. Sure, there
are a few codgers making random predictions based on the woolly worm, which
turned up in many quarters looking like a bleached blonde this year. But
pure folklore does nothing more than cause your serious weather watcher to
ask, why did the blonde woolly worm stand in front of a mirror with her
eyes closed? She wanted to see what she looked like asleep.
Still, any Midwesterner worth three cornstalks should be able to tell you a
green sky at the tail end of a thunderstorm means trouble. Or that when the
air feels "close," as my 93-year-old father-in-law calls high humidity, an
afternoon storm is likely building.
In recent years, Canadian Geese have had a 100 percent accuracy rate in
predicting winter weather in central New York. When the geese have stayed,
winter weather has been mild. When the geese have honked one another off
battling for air space out of state, winter weather has been cold and harsh.
So who are the people tracking the behavior of geese as it relates to weather?
Reliable gadgetry and high-tech forecasting are life-savers, but it never
hurts to have a little something upstairs. Just ask the people on the
island off the Thai coast who have dubbed Tilly Smith "Angel of the Beach."
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