Weather or Not | An eye on the sky, beguiled as always

By standard measures, this has been an uneventful winter until now, stingy with snow, ice and drama.

So much for standard measures.

For true weather connoisseurs, this has been a fascinating winter, one that has underscored nature's elusiveness. On a personal level, it has done nothing but solidify a lifelong passion for weather - not that it was ever wavering.

Recall that in the fall the consensus was that winter would be full of cold, storms and adventure. No one foresaw the incredible warmth of December and the first half of January, nor that it would be so utterly snow-less in so much of the country, nor that we would have to wait until Valentine's Day to get even a decent threat.

Winter thus has been a worthy sequel to a quiet and puzzling hurricane season.

Again, recall that during the spring and summer some of the best in the business were warning that it could rival the 2005 season, one that emptied more than $20 billion from the federal treasury for direct disaster assistance. For landfalling hurricanes, however, the 2006 hurricane season couldn't have been much more benign.

What we've learned anew in the last six months is that nature can be wonderfully - and maddeningly - inscrutable.

When he was running the Climate Prediction Center, the government office that is responsible for long-range forecasts, Jim Laver once remarked that he believed nature had its secrets. If scientists could crack them, they could nail these long-range forecasts. After years of frustration, however, Laver, now retired, concluded that perhaps nature didn't have any secrets after all - that it was making it up as it went along.

This inscrutability is one of the qualities that keep me coming back to the atmosphere in awe every day.

It colored my reading of the latest bulletin from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the one that says, essentially, the world is getting warmer and humans are to blame. When you get the time, I encourage you to read the chilling 18-page findings, which are posted on my blog.

I will have much more to say about this in the weeks to come, but I would be surprised if this is the last word on the subject, if nature didn't have a shock or two in store for everyone.

Most of the time, I will be writing about less-weighty matters as I did in this column's predecessor, "Weather Watch."

For example, I will talk about why so many balls fly out of the Phillies' ballpark (it has to do with weather), why ice appears to grow on rocks on the expressway and why some snow is harder to shovel than others.

I plan to keep this column as fresh and lively as the weather itself.

I'm often asked why I'm so into weather. To me, the question is backward. How could anyone not be interested in this marvelous life-support system that has been a good four billion years in the making?

When I walk outside in the morning, I feel as though I'm looking up at the latest installment in eternity.

I've been paying attention to weather since before I could remember. I grew up around here and can still recite the dates of storms and snowfall amounts officially measured at Philadelphia International Airport - going back to March 18, 1956.

My wife has wondered how someone who can tell her that 14.6 inches fell on Dec. 11-12, 1960 (it started around 11 a.m. on a Sunday, by the way), can get lost driving our son to school in the morning.

I have no defense, other than to say that the human mind is the only thing that rivals the atmosphere for unpredictable and unexplainable behavior.

For the latest on the snow threat and why the snow may not stick around long, visit Wood's new daily blog, at

Contact Anthony R. Wood at 610-313-8210 or