Why I Worry About the Weather
By Anne Johnson
Let’s start with the incongruity of my weather anxiety: I live in New Jersey, a healthy 55 miles from the coastline, another healthy five feet above the nearest water, which is a sluggish pond. The city of Philadelphia lies due west of me; if I had a third story on my house I could see the skyline. I’m a school teacher. My husband works at home, and my daughters live in the city. My commute to work lasts 10 minutes and is on a three-lane road. Even in flash floods there’s no standing water in my vicinity.
And yet, every single day I check the weather. I don’t just watch it on the local news (although I often do that), I also read the entire forecast discussion from the National Weather Service for my particular Zip code. When the weather is threatening, I check NWS several times a day. When there’s a watch or a warning I zoom in on the radar loop. People tease me about this, except during snowstorms (Remember, I’m a school teacher).
Weather anxiety is probably very common. Lots of people are fearful of lightning, and rightly so. Lots of people are worried about climate change, and rightly so. My obsession with the weather predates any talk of climate change. I’m that old.
I get this from my grandfather and grandmother. They grew up on farms. Granddad’s farm was on Polish Mountain, Zip 17211. And although he spent his career in the synthetic fabric industry as an inventor, he worried over the weather as if his life depended upon it.
Which, of course, it did for him when he was a child.
There’s a bucolic image of “living off the land,” also known as subsistence farming. It is certainly a way to be independent of the Military/Industrial Complex. But it’s also a way to endure privations that are, in our modern America, nearly forgotten.
Subsistence farmers suffer as often as they succeed. Too much rain, too little rain, insects, blights, late frosts, early snows: All of these are the enemy of the subsistence farmer. To lose a crop means the family could literally starve. There was no bank or government to bail them out. Experience this as a child, and you never forget it.
If enough generations live that way, it’s in your DNA to worry about the weather, even when the sun is shining. I can almost feel the bone-deep anxieties of my Bedford County ancestors who lived off those rocky and weather-tortured mountainsides. With that kind of lifestyle dogging your heels, it was understandably alluring to join the extractive industries (coal, timber, factory work), even if those conditions were harsh as well.
My grandmother also lived on a farm, Zip 21740. She was born in 1888. When I was a teenager she recalled, still in vivid horror, the day a freak hailstorm killed the family’s whole flock of poultry in five minutes. No electricity for preservation — they went meatless for a year.
And so I fret over the weather. Me, in my air-conditioned, suburban home, just a short train ride from Philadelphia. It’s how I know I come from the land, and why I am no longer there.
Anne Johnson is the author of a Pagan humor blog, “The Gods Are Bored” https://godsrbored.blogspot.com.