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It is our sport and religion

April 6, 2009

by Ivan Raconteur

We Minnesotans love our football, baseball, and hockey, but perhaps the most popular spectator sport in the North Star State is weather watching.

We aren’t just casual observers. We take this stuff seriously.

It is no surprise then, that some people elevate meteorologists to a quasi-star status and treat them like celebrities.

Minnesotans are not above contradiction, though.

I refer to those people who say that being a weatherman is the only profession in which one can be wrong most of the time and still get paid, and then hurry home to watch the weather report on TV.

I have known people who said that all meteorologists were idiots, but who would flip back and forth between channels during newscasts and compare the forecasts offered up by the competing weathermen (or women).

Some people keep track of their favorite meteorologist’s accuracy record in much the same way as they monitor their favorite quarterback’s completion percentage or the home town slugger’s batting average.

My grandmother was a classic example of a true Minnesota weather fanatic.

When I was growing up, we lived in a duplex, and I spent many years living on the first floor with grandma.

She was partially paralyzed as the result of a stroke.

Despite the fact that she had scarcely set foot out of the house for years, she was still a weather freak.

She watched the weather forecasts religiously and she didn’t put up with any nonsense, either.

My gran was ahead of her time, and even in the early 1970s, long before we had cable or satellite TV, she believed that television was interactive.

If the news anchors spent too much time chit-chatting before they got to the forecast, she would wave her cane and holler at them with great gusto, urging them to get on with it so she could hear the weather report.

Some people may have considered my gran a bit eccentric, but in many ways she was no different than many other Minnesota weather freaks.

It may have made sense for people to follow the weather closely during the pioneer days when most people made their living off the land.

In the modern era, however, most of us spend our days trapped in offices or other indoor prisons, and go about our business unaffected by the weather, and yet, our fascination with the weather continues.

There are those among us who study not only the weather forecasts, but who just have to see the postmortem outlining what the weather was like yesterday.

I can hardly think of any more useless information than the weather that was.

There may be exceptions, such as those rare days when a blizzard dumps three feet of snow in a few hours, or, as in the current case in the Red River Valley, where people are practically underwater already and several more inches of rain fall.

One can see how these events might provoke a natural curiosity about the weather.

It seems that everybody one meets in Minnesota comments on the weather. There was a time when I thought this was just small talk, but I realize now that it goes much deeper than that.

Weather in Minnesota is elevated to the level of a state sport or even a religion.

For some people, meteorologists serve as prophets.

Despite the fact that the weather geeks are no more accurate than military strategists or government intelligence experts, they are revered by Minnesotans.

Just as the ancients lived their lives by the sun and the moon, some modern-day disciples of the weather gods consider a weather forecast to be a sort of spiritual experience.

In much the same way as we love to discuss sports or religion, Minnesotans love to discuss the weather.

One thing that one can count on is that we are never satisfied.

Not only do we accept change in this climate of extremes, we demand it.

At this time of year, when winter is reluctant to give up its grip, and the cool, rainy days of early spring seem to hang on forever, many people complain about the cold.

One can almost guarantee, however, that soon the very same people will be complaining about the heat, or about dry days with no rain.

Just as we like to complain about our favorite sports teams, Minnesotans love to complain about the weather.

It doesn’t matter what the weather is like, we are never satisfied for long. This is one of the benefits of living in a climate where temperature swings of 50 or 60 degrees in a 24 hour period are possible. If things stay the same, we get bored.

The average Minnesotan would find it difficult to cope in a climate where the weather is 70 degrees and sunny every day.

We would have nothing to look forward to, nothing to look back on, and, worst of all, nothing to talk about.