Gone with the wind

Monday 8 January 2018 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — Christmas Season ends today

“Bombogenesis.” I don’t know about you, dear readers, but I had never before heard the word until this month. Some say the term has been around since the 1940s (so have I, but it’s still new to me). It’s a combination of “bomb” (an explosive occurrence) and “cyclogenesis” (the development of a low pressure system). It’s used to describe a weather process during which there’s a drastic drop in a storm’s barometric pressure within a few hours. Bombogenesis results in intense winds, costal flooding, and heavy precipitation. You can also call the phenomenon a “weather bomb” or simply “the bomb.” When used in this sense, it has nothing to do with North Korea. 

I am not making this up. I saw the term “bombogenesis” used in a recent Cape Cod weather forecast. “Expect a significant amount of wind-driven snow,” it explained. Oh, dear. Here we go again.

I will add “bombogenesis” to my weather lexicon where it will join “polar vortex,” “derecho,” “thunder-snow,” “tsunami,” “sharknado,” and “wind-chill factor.” 

Speaking of wind-chill factor, they say we haven’t had so much cold weather for this long in a hundred years. 

I recently decided to tend the houseplants and carried the empty watering can to the copper sink in the butler’s pantry. No water. The pipes were frozen. If those plants hadn’t withered when they did, it would probably have taken the butler a very long time to discover the problem. In fact, I’ve been searching for years and I still can’t even find the butler. I’m beginning to suspect there’s never been a butler, even though he has his own pantry.

Fortunately, I remembered there was a handheld hair dryer on the shelf in the laundry room. It’s been gathering dust since the washing machine pipes burst a while back. It saved the day by thawing out the pantry pipes before they had a chance to burst. A disaster was averted. 

Frozen pipes can be a problem in an old house like this. I take all the necessary precautions. I start by turning up the thermostats. Most of the thermostats work, but some have little effect. In fact, some you can push up to 75 degrees, but the room temperature will still read 57 degrees. My thermostat is dyslexic.

The problem goes back decades to a reconfiguration of the heating system. The thermostat for my bedroom, for example, ended up in the guest room. I can tell it’s getting cold when my greyhound Lurch picks up in the middle of the night and moves into the sitting room. It’s warmer there. I just add another blanket.

I leave the faucets dripping. I run a space heater in the two places most susceptible to frozen pipes — the laundry room and the downstairs restroom. The laundry room is off the breezeway. It’s the end of the line, so pipes out there are vulnerable. The restroom issue is more difficult to understand. The restroom was built with no indoor heating. It’s akin to an outhouse.

Of course, you never really know whether or not the water pipes have been compromised by the cold until the temperature rises above freezing. Only time will tell.

Over the years, I’ve heard from other pastors in town that they too, have had some rectory problems, albeit not frozen pipes. Although both of those Falmouth rectories are newer than this one, the ground beneath them has shown evidence of shifting. 

Then there’s our church steeple. Fortunately, it’s structurally sound. It has been shored up by massive steel beams sunk into the bedrock. The vinyl cladding, however, is failing. After a windstorm, I look out the window to see if any more pieces have blown away. At least there are no leaks in the choir loft. 

I can see the original cedar shakes underneath. They seem in relatively good shape. Last month, steeplejacks came to take a closer look. They used a newfangled drone to film the structure. They are now analyzing the data on their computers in order to suggest the most effective solution. 

High winds can also take out sections of the stockade fence marking the boundaries of the church property. The old cedar posts are letting go. I check that out too after a windstorm. 

I was celebrating the 9 a.m. Mass on Christmas Day when my crazy greyhound began to howl like a banshee. He sometimes does that if he hears my voice in the distance. But this time he seemed much closer. I soon figured out that it wasn’t Lurch at all. Near-hurricane force winds were howling through the church. I could see horizontal snow out the glass front door.

I suspected some anonymous person had silently slipped a prayer for a white Christmas into the General Intercessions. I quickly added my own petition, “O Lord, please disregard that white Christmas prayer.” The storm was over in 15 minutes. The assembly was impressed.

So, the next time the weather forecast mentions “bombogenesis,” you’ll know to hang onto your hats.

Anchor columnist Father Tim Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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