As we approached the end of 2015, it became clear to all of us that the warming of the planet was just not going to play out here on eastern Long Island as we had hoped. The idea was we’d finish out the year a quarter of a degree warmer than the year before, which would have given us a slightly longer tourist season than we’ve had in the past. The longer tourist years have been creeping up and creeping up. What used to be summer seasons that began in the middle June and went to Labor Day have now expanded to Memorial Day to the end of September.
Unfortunately, 2015 got off to a very bad start, in a certain sense. In January, when the average temperature was supposed to be 31 degrees, it was, in fact, 28. Then in February the roof fell in, or, to put it another way, the bottom fell out. February’s average was supposed to be 33 degrees. With below zero temperatures and tons of snow, it came in at a bitter average temperature of just 19 degrees. March followed with further temperatures lower than normal and April was more of the same. At this point, we were on average way, way below normal. And it occurred to me that if not only what goes down goes up eventually (and then some, with global warming), we might be looking at a summer season that would begin at the beginning of May and take us all the way through to the middle of October. Nearly six months of summer.
In fact, during those six months we were indeed warmer than normal. It was enough for people to notice it and praise the longer summer temperatures. But in fact, when you looked at it compared to what the average temperature has usually been, we were up on average during these six months just one degree. This was more than we could expect from global warming. But with the astonishing lows at the beginning of the year so enormous, it still left us so far, far behind what it usually would be. If we coasted in with normal temperatures for the rest of the year, in fact, we would be so far behind for the year that it was just as astonishing.
In fact, if you add up all the degrees we had fallen behind, the total was at that point 27 degrees. We would have to make up 13.5 degrees in each of the final two months of the year to get back to slightly above normal, as we were supposed to.
Could it be done? I knew one man who could make that happen. He was in retirement now, living in Cape Canaveral, Florida, but for 20 years, between 1980 and 2000, Scotty Fitzpatrick, a brilliant engineer, had manipulated the weather on eastern Long Island by running a series of steam- and static-electricity-producing furnaces in a factory up in the woods of Water Mill. If he could get the pressure up high enough, this material could warm up or cool off the weather over the Eastern End to make the best of whatever weather was being shoved into this community from the west.
(Weather moves west to east, as you know. The earth turns clockwise, and though the atmosphere can’t keep up, it still nevertheless slides along, forcing the weather to come that way. That’s how it is.)
Scotty was employed by a consortium of chambers of commerce out here who had built this factory to Scotty’s specifications. About 40 men were employed there, shoveling coal into these furnaces, or not doing so. The system worked. And, occasionally, I would place a call to Scotty and ask him how he was doing, what was coming in and what could he do about it.
“It’s gonna be tough,” he’d say in that loveable Scottish brogue. “Heavy rains, strong winds. But we think we can hold them off until Monday if we shovel hard enough.” And then he and his men would do that.
In 2000, however, Scotty got it all wrong. Something was causing him to fail to keep up, and he never knew what it was. So he resigned, we gave him a gold watch, and he moved to Cape Canaveral.
In late October, I called Scotty and begged him to come back. I told him what was going on. And, finally, he agreed, provided, he said, we didn’t report on it unless he was successful. And he would only do it for five months, until the end of winter.
“I’ll lock up the trailer,” he said. “Good to get away from the snow birds, taking over here down in Florida. I’ll be there soon as I can. See if I can get it fixed. But, again, it’s all hush-hush to see how I make out. Never could find out what was wrong up there.”
Scotty arrived in late October, and after two weeks of hiring workers, cleaning up and firing up his abandoned factory, he told me he had found the problem. One of the vacuum tubes in his old generator was faulty. He’d gotten another one.
“Hard to find them these days,” he said.
It was for that reason that on November 6, the temperatures soared to a record 71 degrees. I am sure you remember it. But Scotty couldn’t hold on to it. And he asked that I continue to not tell anybody. I asked him to call me when he got it further fixed, whatever it was. I’d keep the faith.
Well, now it can be told. Scotty discovered that the replacement vacuum tube was also faulty, at least on an intermittent basis, and so he had ordered another one. He got it in and the place up and rolling again for real this time, just before Thanksgiving.
“We’re giving it all we’ve got,” Scotty enthused on November 24.
You know the rest. The month of December came through with the highest temperatures since record keeping began out here. I spoke to Tim Morrin, at NOAA’s main regional office in Islip, about it. He gave me the figures. Normal for December was supposed to be 36.2 degrees. But with Scotty at the wheel—Morrin knows all about Scotty and has worked with him closely—the month averaged 47.1 degrees. It was the kind of month you would expect in April, where the average is 48 degrees. People were on the beaches in shorts over Christmas. It was an astonishing performance.
I told Scotty that.
“This is an astonishing performance,” I said.
But, in fact, he told me, although December’s temperatures were 11 degrees above normal, it had not made up for what happened in January, February and March. For the year, our average temperature was still down from the average year, although only by one degree.
“We’ve got this thing really cranking now,” Scotty told me yesterday, January 9. (I’m writing this on January 10.) “We lost a bit of traction last week when that Alaska weather came down, but we’re still doing our best.”
“Give it all you got, Scotty,” I told him.
“I’m all yours,” Scotty said, “until the end of March. But then I go home and that’s it. I miss the trailer and the rockets taking off and the dog.”
“Martha, my next door neighbor is watching him.”
“Anything you can do until then, we all will appreciate,” I said.