Weather Nerd


Daniel, Wyoming _ population 150, elevation 7,192 feet.  This small burg is frequently the coldest location in the Lower 48 states of USA.  

(screen shot from Google Street View - September 2015)

       Weather fascinates me.  The Midwest is a great place to live and watch the weather.  Most folks in Ohio either complain about how much the weather changes, especially on days when three seasons occur in one day, or that the weather is not perfect for whatever they want to do.  I find it hard to believe there are people who are not at least a little curious, or intrigued, by what goes on in the air above us.
        Blame this nerdiness on my mother!  Once she dragged my brother and I out to the cow pasture to watch the approach of a spectacular thunderstorm, when both our ages were still in single digits.  It was awe-inspiring, especially when cornstalks in the field beyond the cow pasture started getting up-rooted and violently flung into the air.  Then the huge sycamore tree, which stood at the far end of the cornfield, about half a mile away, became obscured by blowing dirt and torrential rain.  It was time to make a run for our lives back to the house!  The storm caught us as we reached the backdoor, and we had to hang on to each other for dear life! 
        That is a glimpse into how I was raised.  My brother was aware of weather, for how can one not be?  But in his later years his connection to it was eroded by the boring atmospheric consistency of decades of his living in California.  Once, in later years, he visited me back in Ohio.  We had a rather typical summer thunderstorm, with lots of lightning, ear-splitting thunder, and sheets of rain, interspersed with deluges of pea-sized hail.  Attention getting - yes!  Abnormal?  No!  But my brother asked how I could stand it, and why was I not freaked out, because he certainly was!  This question was coming from a person who living with earthquakes, drought, and fire!  
        The comment made no sense.  He was originally from here.  The Midwest - where weather frequently gets your attention, but does not usually kill you!  Hurricanes, blizzards, flash floods, tornadoes - those sort of things can permanently damage a whole region forever and take many lives while doing it.  That is why I like Ohio!  Weather is usually a spectator sport!

        As a kid I liked looking at the newspaper.  It was too big for me to hold it in my hands while seated in a chair like an adult, so I would lie on the living room floor and look at it.  The pictures, headlines, and comics warranted a close look, and I would read what I could.  The radio log and television grid required close examination as well, even though for many years we did not have a TV.  Just the fact that some shows were being broadcast in color, instead of the normal black & white, and were marked on the grid with a bold C required my scrutiny.  I also took note of when the three channels signed off in the evening, or early morning hours.  Why?  I have no idea!  We had no TV, and I had to be in bed hours before that happened.  Maybe it was because I recognized these bits of information indicated there was another world out there.
        But it was the weather page in the newspaper which got my closest attention.  The map was interesting, even if I was not exactly certain how to interpret the various lines.  What was readily understandable, though, were  the high and low temperatures for cities in the United States, and around the world.  
        The high and low temperature in the US of A was of particular interest to my young nerd mind.  Then I started to notice patterns.  The high temperatures were typically the same usual suspects:   Thermal or Needles, Arizona, or Palm Springs, California in the summer, and Miami, Florida, or Brownsville, Texas in the winter.  But the cold spot was usually the same place - International Falls, Minnesota!
        Once a television finally arrived in our house, in the early 1960's, I became aware that others took note of the same thing.  A favorite cartoon show of mine, from that era, was The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show.  The home of the titular moose and squirrel characters was Frostbite Falls, Minnesota, but I knew they really meant International Falls.  That was but one of the many often repeated satirical jokes.  It was cool to know what was really going on!  The show was made for nerds!

        As the decades wore on, I still paid attention to the weather statistics and kept an eye on what was happening outside, but too many distractions intruded as well.  Maybe that is part of adulthood.  School, work, family, relationships, and recreational pursuits all demand their fair share of mental energy and time.  The newspaper shrank the amount of real estate devoted to maps and reams of daily weather statistics.  Somewhere in the 1990's International Falls stopped being the coldest spot in the United States!
        Something consistent and familiar had been lost.  It just was not right!  Maybe a rupture had occurred in the space-time continuum.  Frostbite Falls, that fabled home of "moose and squirrel" now had no context, but then that cartoon had not been aired in decades, so maybe no one cared or even noticed.  But I did!
        Then, something curious happened, noticeable only to weather nerds like myself.  An unknown place, with no cartoon obliquely referencing it, started to appear regularly as the coldest place in the lower forty-eight.  Daniel, Wyoming!  Then another place started showing up with alarming frequency as well - Stanley, Idaho!  These two names vied for the nerd honor as the coldest place in the United States on any given day.  A couple of other places tried to compete, but to my mind a park and a reservoir in California (Bodie State Park and Antero Reservoir) did not carry the same weight and authority as an actual town. The rupture had been sealed, though the world was now a different place.
        Several times over the years, curiosity took over and I tried to find these cold places on my trusty Rand McNally Road Atlas.  Neither were listed in the town name compendia under their respective states in the back of the atlas.  But nerd experience had taught me that lack of listing did not mean they were not on the map!  It just meant they did not make the list of significant, or important places, however that criteria was filtered.  What could be more important than being the usual cold place?  There had to be something unique about them.
        The consistency held for years as the two bergs battled for supremacy and bragging rights - providing anyone cared, or even noticed.  You know who was noticing!  Nerds, like me!  That's who!
        My poor suffering wife looks at me, then shakes her head in dismay when I look up from the newspaper weather page and announce, "Daniel, Wyoming!  Once again the coldest spot in the U. S.!" or, "Stanley, Idaho this time!"  I never announce when it is one of the two interlopers located in the land of the lotus eaters.

        Recently, I had an opportunity to join in on a trip out West, and I took the risk and went.  During my lifetime I have passed up many opportunities for adventure.  The reasons for doing so were well-reasoned, and even "adult" at times.  Cannot afford it, cannot get away from the job, cannot leave the family right now - the list of good reasons goes on.  But this time, I did it!  Things seemed right - even if they were not.  The point being, I am glad I went off and headed down the road.  The experience, at the behest of my wife, became the book "Hitting the Road Without a Map".
        During research while writing the book, I had to consult a lot of maps!  A chapter in the book, titled "Free Range," provides a description of a town in Wyoming named Farson, and a conversation with the proprietor of a gas station, and the only business at the crossroads.  Had we turned right, instead of going straight, we could have driven seventy miles to Daniel!  I did not know that at the time.  I only discovered that pearl of information later, during my research.
        A year after my book was published, my curiosity finally got the better of me and I looked up Daniel, Wyoming on Google Maps.  The Street View function shows that there is a bar in town, but it was closed when the Google car drove by in 2015.  There is also a great looking tourist camp constructed out of logs, probably dating from the late 1930's or 1940's, but it appeared that the last tourist checked out a decade ago, at least.  There is no gas station.  There is no evidence of a weather station in someone's backyard.  But a proud person in this hamlet of 150 people regularly reports the weather statistics!  They may be the only person in town with a job, other than the bartender.
     Having piqued my curiosity, I had to check Stanley, Idaho as well.  It is in a mountainous area, prime for winter snow skiing, and it has a small airport.  Reports from there make sense.
        Daniel, Wyoming, on the other hand, remains a mystery.  Someone out there along the upper reaches of the Green River, in a small burg knee deep in sagebrush on the High Plains, almost a mile and a half above sea level (eat your heart out, Denver!), is recording this information and providing it to the proper authorities so the rest of the planet can know!  I bet they are a nerd, too, and probably have an interesting story to tell!


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