Above the Storm Clouds

I was saddened to see the utter destruction wrought by tornadoes in Oklahoma earlier this week. A whole town was completely obliterated by a mile-wide tornado that touched down with wind speed of more than 200 miles per hour. Several lives were lost, and thousands of homes and properties destroyed. My thoughts and prayers goes to all who were affected.

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Moore, Oklahoma (photo from news4jax.com)

We were in Philadelphia when all these violent storms happened. When we arrived here in Iowa, I learned from our friends that we did had some bad storms in our area also. In fact, my friend said that during his daughter’s dance recital a few days ago, it was temporary interrupted for several minutes, when they announced a tornado warning. Though they were not forced to evacuate into a storm shelter.

We were just glad to come home and see that our home and our trees (including our  leaning tree), as well as our whole neighborhood to be still standing. But violent weather, including tornadoes, is a fact of life here in the midwest. Even the local university’s football team has a name that bears it, the Iowa State Cyclones.

Schools, offices and even hospitals have required drills, to be prepared in case a tornado hit. Just recently about two weeks ago, in the hospital where I work, we had a tornado drill. Although many people, and that includes me, did not take it too seriously when it was announced overhead, and acted nonchalantly as we know it was just a drill. But what if it’s not just a drill anymore? Will we survive?

When we were flying from Philadelphia back here to our home in Iowa, we have probably flew over places where the strong storms had passed and wreak havoc on their path. But one reality strikes me. A different perspective if you will. That is, it is always sunny above the clouds.

Storms, not just atmospheric, are facts of this life. Some may be extremely violent. Sometimes we will be hit by theses realities. And you may be experiencing one right now. But they too will pass. Let us just hold on tight and weather these storms of life. For it is always sunny above those dark clouds.

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photo taken at 33,000 feet

White Christmas

I am dreaming of a white Christmas. Not!

A warm Christmas maybe. A brown Christmas will do. Or better yet, a green (as in tropical!) Christmas.

I agree a white Christmas is so beautiful and iconic. Until you realize you need to shovel that pile of snow in your driveway in the subfreezing temperature. And there’s nothing beautiful in the bitter cold unless you are a polar bear.

But whether it is white, or brown, or green, or red, or even pink, that is not important. For Christmas is not about snow or colors. It is about the birth of a Redeemer, that though my sins are like scarlet, He made them as white as snow.

In that sense, it is a white Christmas after all. Have a blessed Christmas!

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(*photo taken last winter)

Snow Biking

It was a glorious day. After days of frigid temperatures, we finally had a respite from cold.

Few days ago, it even dropped to actual reading of 10 below zero (degrees Fahrenheit), with wind chill factor of 30 below zero. At these temperatures, some motor oil, like 10w30, will freeze. Starting a car’s engine may be difficult (antifreeze will actually freeze at 40 below zero). With human’s blood freezing point at 31.1 above zero(just a tad lower than water’s), it is understandable that exposure to this level of cold can be dangerous. Our body by the way, maintains a normal temperature of 98 to 100 F to function properly. No wonder my brain freezes on frigid days.

Today was different. We started the day with temperature just above freezing. I know that was still cold, considering that the optimal refrigerator temperature is 35 to 38 F. We reached 40’s yesterday, and today we rose up to low 50’s. It was warm enough that my children went out to ride their bikes. Yes, they rode their bikes through melting snow. Finally, a ‘global warming’ that I can appreciate.

snow biking

But wait. It is only mid February, and with official spring time not until 5 more weeks away. That means we can definitely dip down to below zero again sometime in the near ensuing days. But for now, I certainly enjoyed this arctic break.

There’s one downside of this above freezing temperature: it melted my children’s igloo in our yard. But then again, they can build a much bigger one next time. Do I sound like I’m asking for more snow? No, I’m not. I’m just being a realist.

Not Cold? My Ears are Frozen!

Last weekend we shared a lazy Sunday brunch with our neighbors (yes, the same one who borrowed Voltes V). They have just moved from Minnesota to Iowa last summer, and as good neighbors we befriended them. They did fit in quickly to our neighborhood, and have settled in pretty much in their lovely new home.

Trying to know people with very different background than us is always interesting. They were curious how we who grew up in another country ended up here in Iowa. We told them of our experiences and what it was like back home. We were happy to inform them that the Philippines have more than 7100 islands (and that some of them disappear during high tide), and that our country’s land area is only twice as big as Iowa, but our population is about 92 M, compared to 3 M here in Iowa.

Then we talked about the Philippines’ climate where the temperature varies between 70’s to 90’s F all year through, unlike the very wide range of -20 (below 0) to 100 F here in Iowa.

As we were sharing stories, they told us that their friends have called them earlier that day and told them that they should be thankful, for there was so much snow and it was so much colder there in St.Paul/Minneapolis (Twin Cities) where they use to lived, than what we were experiencing here in Des Moines.

This couple grew up in Minnesota and spent most of their lives there, and they are very accustomed to cold. They claimed that in Minnesota, they can have up to 6 months of snow in a year. (Half a year of snow?!!) They have learned to embrace the cold weather and enjoy activities in snow. To them, Iowa winter is considered mild. (What do you mean not cold? My ears are already frozen!)

I find it funny that we have such different perspective of what cold is. I guess, to each his own.

Should I be thankful then, for it is warmer here than in Minnesota? I went out and checked the temperature outside: 8 F. Yeah, right.

Winter Driving

Driving in the winter, especially in snow and ice, can be very challenging. There is no scarier moment in driving than when you turn the steering wheel to one direction but your car heads the other way, or when you hit the brakes but you continue to skid forward, or worse you start to spin. (I have experienced all of the above.)

We had snowstorm again yesterday and today, and the roads were dangerously slippery. There were few minor accidents in the road, that it took me more than an hour to drive to my work both days, a distance that I usually cover in 20 minutes. (I should not complain too much, for in Manila it takes an hour drive, a distance you can walk in 10 minutes.)

In one particular icy stretch of the highway today, I saw several vehicles that have fallen into the ditch. I have noticed that most of the vehicles in the ditch are either pick-up truck or SUV, which is counter intuitive. You would think that these type of vehicles will have an advantage in the snow. I guess the drivers of these vehicles had false sense of security and invulnerability and were driving at speed limit of normal road condition.

In my opinion, in winter driving, more important than the high ground clearance (like in truck and SUV), or the 4 x 4 or all-wheel drive, or by being equipped with winter tires — is using some common sense and a bit of caution.

Weather You Like It Or Not

(The following essay was published in the Manila Standard Today on June 15, in their section Diaspora. Thanks to Ms. Chua and Ms. Ortuoste for the encouragement.)

Weather watching and talking about the weather is something new for me. I learned that here in the US. And it’s not that I became a meteorologist, it is for some other reasons.

Back in Manila, nobody really paid attention to the weather forecast. I recall that as I was growing up in Manila, I could almost recite the weather prediction by Amado Pineda: ” Mainit at may manaka-manakang pag-ulan” (warm with occasional rain). And this can be true the whole year round, except if there’s a typhoon. The only time I cared about the weather was if the storm signal is raised to 2 or 3, to check if classes would be suspended (though classes can be suspended due to flood too, especially in UST, with the Espana “river” swelling after the rain).

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UST during flood of 2009

With Manila’s monotonous climate with temperature ranging from 60’s to 90’s F (20’s to 30’s C) the whole year through, there’s really nothing to talk about. With our 2 yearly seasons of “hot” and “very hot”, you don’t need any significant change in your apparel. T-shirts and jeans will be appropriate for any season. No need to change to a sweater, or a light jacket, or boots, or a parka.

Though I remember some people wearing leather jackets in Manila, just to impress others. The only thing you may need to carry is an umbrella (which I hate to carry) for the occasional rain, but newspapers can be used for the same purpose too. And if you get wet? The heat will dry you quickly.

But now that I am living in the US midwest, everything has changed. The temperature can swing from -30’s to +90’s F (-30’s to +30’s C) through the changing seasons. In fact 2 weeks ago, our temperature dropped from low 90’s to high 50’s F in a little more than an hour. That’s more than the range in Manila for the whole year! People say here that if you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes…… it will change. That’s why it is necessary to know your weather forecast; it will definitely affect your activities for the day as well as determine what you need to wear.

During winter, snow storms and ice storms can develop. It is so cold that even my brain freezes. It could be 2-3 months straight without the temperature rising above freezing point and with temperature hovering just above 0 F (-18 C). It is during these days that I often wonder if hell could be as cold as it is hot, for it surely feels like hell! And if I need to go out, I need to wear my underwear thermals, a sweater, heavy jacket, snow boots, gloves, hat, and muffler. It’s a wonder I still can move around with all these articles of clothing. Snow can be beautiful though, especially if I’m  looking at it from inside my heated home, and as long as I don’t have to shovel it nor have to drive through it.

During late spring to early summer, temperature can be very comfortable (40’s to 90’s F). But with wild swings of temperature, violent storms can form quickly. If it’s just thunderstorms, well, I can deal with it, as I’m used to that in the Philippines. But tornadoes and hailstorms? Those simply scare the daylights out of me!

In a tornado you have only a few seconds warning to seek shelter. That’s why houses here have a basement; that serves as a tornado shelter. Over the years that I lived here in Iowa, there were a few tornado warnings in our community with the sirens going off, but thankfully no tornado has touchdown yet in our area. I hope it never will. Some communities are not that fortunate though, and I saw the devastation after a tornado hit. Nothing is left standing. I’ll take a typhoon any day over a tornado.

Tornado in Sioux City, Iowa

Last year, there was a town here in Iowa, that experienced a hailstorm with hails as big as baseballs. It damaged the roofs, windows and walls of every house there. It flattened their crops too. You can just imagine being hit with those baseball-size hail traveling at more than 100 miles per hour! I don’t think an umbrella is of any use during a hailstorm.

Being appreciative of a beautiful day, is something that I learned also from the American culture. Everybody talks about the weather, and everybody express their appreciation of a beautiful day.

I remember years ago when I was still in New Jersey. I just transitioned from the streets of Manila to an idyllic town of Morristown New Jersey. It was summer and I was walking alone at the town plaza. Then a stranger greeted me and exclaimed, “What a beautiful day, isn’t it?” I was taken aback. I have to check if he’s really talking to me. First of all, being raised in Manila, when a stranger greets you, you look at him suspiciously as you check your wallet if it’s still there. And secondly, who talks about the weather in the Philippines! It felt so foreign to me.

But now after experiencing the extremes of weather, especially here in Iowa, where a beautiful day comes far in between, I can see clearly now why they appreciate a beautiful day. Perhaps I took for granted all the beautiful tropical days I had in Manila. Sometimes, we don’t treasure simple things until we lose them.

I am thankful for today. A beautiful sunny summer day. Tomorrow’s forecast: thunderstorm with tornado watch.

A Beautiful Day

Yesterday was a beautiful day here in Iowa. It was sunny and we even reached 60 F (15 C). It was so nice I walked outside without the need of a jacket. People greeted me and commented on how beautiful the day was. Talking about the weather and appreciating a beautiful day is something new I learned from the American culture.

I remember many years ago, I just moved from Manila to Morristown, New Jersey.  It was summer, and I was walking alone in the town square, when somebody I don’t know greeted me and exclaimed what a beautiful day it was. I was taken aback. I looked around me, and made sure this stranger was really talking to me or to somebody else. Being raised in Manila, when a stranger greets you, you check your wallet and make sure it is still there! (We just don’t trust strangers.) And besides, who talks about the weather in the Philippines? The climate is so monotonous with 70’s to 90’s F (22 -34 C) the whole year through, so there is really nothing to talk about. Or perhaps we just take it for granted.

But after experiencing the extremes of weather and temperature here in America (especially here in Iowa), where the temperature can have a 40 to 50 degrees swing even in one day, and when a really beautiful day only come far in between, I have learned to appreciate a beautiful day. Now if I will also appreciate having a roof above my head, a bed of my own, and having three meals a day, then it is more than just a beautiful day.

Our weekend forecast calls for freezing rain and even possibility of snow. (Again?!) I guess it will be a beautiful (snowy) day!