Sunday, March 01, 2015

Fair Weather Friends

I’ve head the same story at least a dozen times in the last few weeks.

“I just (called/texted/e-mailed) my (friend, relative, co-worker) who lives in (Boston/Albany/Glacial Acres, New Hampshire) who told me they had (6 inches, a foot, 20 feet) of snow overnight and the temperature is (5 degrees, 15 below zero, colder than a polar bear’s toenails).

“I told him/her it was 85 degrees in L.A. and we were attired in (shorts/Speedos/bikinis/absolutely nothing). They told me we were (lucky, boorish, insensitive).”

Call it Southland Schadenfreude, the latter being a term which means taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. It was coined by --- who else? ---the Germans.

We’ve all indulged in it. Some years ago when my wife’s family lived in western Pennsylvania, I would call my brother-in-law in the middle of January to tell him I had just walked off the golf course and that I was bummed because I got dirt on my shorts.

He was good natured about it, although he was probably making a mental note to slip finely ground glass in my martini next time we visited.

Even the ultra-provincial New York Times was forced to admit, “Among the pleasures of living in Southern California, none may be as wonderful as the climate, and the ability of residents to use it as a meteorological bat against the collective heads of their fellow Americans.”

It’s all true. We often behave badly when it comes to weather-shaming. It’s almost as if we’re covering up for an inferiority complex although I can’t imagine why.

We are second to none when it comes to majestic mountains, roaring rivers, spectacular deserts, forests, fields and streams.

We have sparkling cities, world class wine, great universities, movie stars and championship sports teams. We have In N Out Burgers, the juices from which drip down our shirt-sleeved arms.

They have stifling humidity, thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, basketball-sized hailstones, the polar vortex, white outs, ice storms and blizzards. And White Castle burgers.

 I sincerely believe if the European explorers would have made landfall in, say, Newport Beach, everything east Palm Springs would be largely unpopulated to this day.

The rest of the country knows this. They can talk about enjoying the changing of the seasons, fireflies on a summer night, white Christmases, fall foliage.

Bunk. They’d dump it all faster than you can say “pass me a margarita” for a chance to live in California. Schenectady or Santa Barbara? Are you kidding?

But there’s an inherent danger in our boasting. If you persist in e-mailing Aunt Mary and Uncle Joe in Boston pictures of your tan lines, they may just show up on your doorstep for an extended stay with their hyperactive kids who have been housebound for two months.

They may be followed by a thousand other Marys and Joes who have decided to  exchange the Ice Belt for a spot on the 405 freeway each day.

Worse, the reason we are enjoying these balmy winters is that we’re in the middle of a severe drought. While we may enjoy poking fun at our snowbound Eastern brethren, we will pay a steep price for our endless summer.

According to one report, California, for the second year in a row, saw its warmest December-January, with a monthly average temperature 5.1°F higher than its 20th century average. With that heat having continued into February, it’s almost certain to be the warmest winter on record in California, surpassing the previous record set just last year.

Two storm events, one in December and one at the beginning of February, have brought some moisture to California and parts of Oregon and Washington. But snowpack is California’s main source of drinking water, and the tropical origins of the storms, called atmospheric rivers, meant that winter rain fell instead of snow, the report said.

One forecaster characterized it as “being down by nine touchdowns in the 4th quarter of a football game. It’s not a score you’re likely to catch up to.”

The result of all this is that we may have more severe water rationing come this summer. We’re not talking reduced lawn watering. It could be real life-style altering stuff.

The Metropolitan Water District put it this way: “Southland consumers have responded to the water conservation challenge this past year. We all, however, need to be prepared to take water saving to another level this summer if water supply conditions don’t improve.”

When that happens, get ready for an onslaught of texts and e-mails from the folks back east asking if they will be replacing the bear on the state flag with a camel. And other drought-related insults.

Payback can be painful.

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