As I type these words, the temperature outside my office is 31 degrees. Abetted by arctic wind, it is falling like the proverbial rock. Meteorologists predict a low of 16 before sunrise. By the time you read these words, things could even be colder.
Then again, balmy breezes off the Gulf of Mexico might just as easily be wafting merrily through our barren trees, pushing afternoon temperatures into the 70s. Every robin for miles around could be singing its lungs out. Those of fastidious lawncare ilk may even mow and mulch their ragged grass and leftover leaves.
Welcome to ETWWW: East Tennessee’s Weird Winter Weather.
Richard Cornell isn’t fazed by our pogo-stick February climate. Having lived in both Florida and Minnesota, he’s content with Knoxville’s winter pattern of “predictable unpredictability.”
I phoned Richard after receiving his email, affirming my column about our quick-on-the-trigger response to snow and ice: “A four-inch snowfall that terrorizes the South is ho-hum stuff up North. Here in Knoxville, a heavy frost has been known to cause panic in the streets.”
This guy has seen both extremes.
During Richard’s fifth-grade year in Hollywood, Florida, the local population exploded. Almost overnight, portable classrooms went up at many schools. The only warmth in them during winter came from a small oil heater at the front of the room.
“If you sat close to the heater, it was OK,” he said, “but my desk was on the back row. There was a cold snap, and I almost froze back there. I finally hollered out, ‘Mrs. Miller, look at my breath!’ Yes, you could actually see it! She ran to the principal’s office, and the next thing we knew, school was called off for two days.”
Contrast that to what occurred in the winter of 1968-69. By then, Richard was living in St. Paul, Minn. He worked briefly as a school bus driver.
“They had one of the heaviest snow seasons on record,” he said. “The total accumulation was somewhere around 65 inches, and there were periods of minus-75 wind chill temperatures. Yet there was not a single ‘snow’ or ‘cold’ day the entire winter.”
He moved back to Florida and nearly melted.
“They have two seasons down there: two days in February and summer.”
Richard retired after 37 years with the U.S. Postal Service. He and his wife, Joyce, began searching for more temperate digs. They settled here in 2015.
“Knoxville and Central Florida both get hot during the summer,” he said. “But by late afternoon, it starts to cool here. In Florida, the temperature is still rising. Plus, the humidity is much worse.”
Think about this in the next few days while you shiver — or sweat.
Sam Venable’s column appears every week. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.