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LIFE & TIMES / WENDY MILLER

Intricacies of Weather Fascinate the Curious

February 16, 1995|WENDY MILLER | Wendy Miller is editor of Ventura County Life

Weather, as a topic, is generally perceived to be the last desperate refuge of the dull. It is one of those conversational enclaves, like talking about the folks or the Asian flu, that we retreat behind when called upon to find something to say.

The neighbor has just popped up from behind the hedge, or old Aunt Flo has made a surprise appearance. After a meander through the mundanities ("How are the kids?" "That back still acting up?") comes the five-minute weather drone--"That last storm must have dropped a foot of rain!" "The wind actually blew over the lemon tree!" "We sandbagged the driveway to keep the garage dry!"

Actually, I think weather gets a bum rap. The reason we talk about it so much isn't because we have nothing else to talk about, but because, like all natural phenomena, it's fascinating. It never ceases to amaze us that at the very moment some are freezing, others are baking, that early in the morning we can leave the house in a coat and feel like peeling down to our undies by noon, that on one 30-mile drive we can pass through rain and hail, and be greeted by sun as we pull into work.

And with the theory of chaos applied to weather conditions, we can now wonder how a bat belching in Arkansas can contribute to snowstorms in Ohio. And if that isn't complicated enough, there is the whole issue of this week's Centerpiece story: microclimates, those subtle, local influences that can make one part of the garden too hot to grow an Azalea plant or create just the right conditions for growing apricots, but just on East Main Street.

Staff writer Pancho Doll, the author of today's story, doesn't mind admitting that weather, in general, and microclimates, in particular, are topics that interest him.

"I thought of this story one day when I was driving up the Conejo Grade and noticed how those hillsides are absolutely overrun with cactus, a type of plant you don't often see here. I started wondering what conditions caused such an unusual distribution, and that got me thinking in terms of microclimates," he said.

"I found out the cactus were probably introduced by sheep brought here to graze from the desert. It turned out the plants prefer the volcanic soils of the grade, not the (climate). But once I started thinking about microclimates, I started noticing them all over. On evening mountain bike rides, I'd feel the rush of cool air . . . when I crossed streams.

"So I thought microclimates might make a thoughtful science story for amateur naturalists interested in understanding more about the wilderness in the backcountry or in the back yard."

See? It's fascinating.

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