A month ago, for the first time, I got a new message from the weather app on my smartphone. It read, “Rain will begin within the next 15 minutes.” I sat at my desk, looking out my window at Three Mile Harbor, and sure enough, just 13 minutes and 45 seconds later, the rain began.
Yes, they can do this. And during the past month, when rain is headed this way, my smartphone gives this 15-minute warning notice like clockwork. It’s uncannily accurate. Furthermore, other people I know have begun to get this message on their smartphones too, at the appropriate moment, wherever they are.
I know where this is going. Weather reporting is soon going to have it down to the second.
DING. You look at your phone. “Rain will start NOW.” And by the time you look up, it’s raining. No more looking out the window. No more “should I take an umbrellaor not take an umbrella?”
Find the umbrella. Open the umbrella. Wait for the double DING telling you the rain is stopping NOW. Put away the umbrella.
It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time when nobody knew what the weather was going to be until it actually got here. The Hurricane of ’38 (1938, that is), which devastated Westhampton Beach, came without any warning whatsoever. It charged all the way up from Florida, and wherever it went people noticed its arrival and headed for shelter and then it was gone, and that was a good thing. Here in Westhampton Beach and elsewhere on the East End, the first sight of it was when maids and caretakers of the big Victorian mansions on Dune Road getting ready for the arrival of their masters looked out to sea and saw this dark angry thing on the horizon. Better get inland. Too late. Now the house has blown into the bay.
In my youth half a century ago, we did have a weather service that warned us of this and that, but it was so wildly inaccurate that we thought it was a joke. Nevertheless, we were in awe of something the size of the Hurricane of ’38 a generation earlier, walloping the East End without a peep from anybody ahead of time.
I worked in my dad’s store as a teenager. He owned White’s Department Store in Montauk then, and the tourists coming out for the day would sometimes stop and ask us, as if we knew, what the weather would be. You’re a local, the concept was. You must know. It was the variation on the old saws such as “roosters crow and dogs bark, must be a storm a comin’” or “wind from the lee means bright weather ahead.” Or something.
Along those lines, I recall standing out on the sidewalk in front of my dad’s store one day and a convertible full of parents and kids pulls up, and the driver says, “Which way to the lighthouse?” So I point east and say, “Thataway about six miles,” to which I get the reply “Thanks” and then a whiff of car exhaust as they drive away. This was before catalytic converters.
The funny thing was that 20 minutes later, I happened to back out front again when this same car pulls up, having come from the direction I had pointed, and the driver says “How much further is the lighthouse?”
Now, you have to be a savvy local to know this, of course, but this was hilarious. They had driven out in the direction I had pointed, drove around the big loop out there at the end, went right past the lighthouse without seeing it, and came back the other way to me. Ha! That was a knee-slapper, let me tell you. It’s sort of a great pre-GPS story I sometimes tell.
Well, anyway, now you know why they couldn’t have made the 2000 movie The Perfect Storm back then. We probably had bunches and bunches of perfect storms. But nobody ever knew.