Spring Breaks: Winter Strikes the Hamptons One Last Time

On the last day of March, winter took its final shot at the Hamptons. It dumped two slushy inches of snow on Long Island, slowing traffic and sending a chill through everyone at the possibility that this worst of all winter seasons was not quite over. But then it gave way to temperatures above freezing and the snow soon faded away.

It had done its best, this horrible winter, but now the earth was more and more tipped toward the sun and warm weather was pressing. So this was a final growl, and thus winter gave up to this lovely spring.

The next day, the first day of April, the coats and scarves and mufflers came off. Light jackets came out of the back of the closet. It was OVER!

And so, that morning, with a skip in my step and a sparkle in my eye, I headed out to visit my longtime friend Scotty O’Brien, the chief of the Weather Center deep in the woods north of Water Mill. This is that factory where for the last hundred years, ever since tourists began coming to the East End, modern science techniques have been used to bring good weather to this community in every season—spring, summer and fall.

Scotty met me at the door and took me up the stairs to the mezzanine balcony so we could stroll along the runway there and look down, as we often have in the past, at the workmen busy on the factory floor below, working hard to keep bad weather at bay.

“Quite a change from how it used to be, eh?” Scotty said.

“Certainly is,” I said.

In years past, sweaty workmen shoveled heavy loads of coal into the hundred or so furnaces all lined up down there to create the kind of heat that could impact the immediate atmosphere above this wonderful paradise. Bad weather would arrive, hit the heat, push through or bounce off. It sometimes worked, sometimes not. Now the smoke and grime were gone, and there were rows of men and women in smart white uniforms, sitting in chairs, facing more than 100 computers.

“It’s all about the internet today,” Scotty said. “The internet and lasers. But you know, with global warming these days—there was no global warming and crazy up-and-down weather when you and I started—we need much more power to do the job.”

“Explain that last slushy snowstorm.”

“Oh, it caught us completely by surprise. Who the hell knew? The alarms went off, and everyone rushed to their stations. Thing is, we’d thought it all over that day, and the whole team was out in the back having a company picnic when the flakes began to fall. We got to our seats, fired everything up, but we were playing catch-up. It took several hours to get up to full power.”

“Well, you nipped it out,” I said.

“Yeah. Finally.”

“So in the old days, you could send varying levels of heat up into the atmosphere to fend off bad weather. Tell our readers how it is done today.”

“It’s the same idea. But we have much more extreme heat. So we use lasers. Big ones and small ones. All dangerous. We have to be really careful.”

“Hard to imagine something more dangerous than the heat from those furnaces.”

“It’s more dangerous by a factor of fifty. One slip and you lose an arm or a leg. Just like that. And I’m sure you know it’s happened.”

“Do you still use the cloud-seeding chemicals?”

“No. Those chemicals are in the past. The old chemical mines are mostly played out. And those that are still operational, well, you have to dig deeper and deeper. It’s prohibitively expensive. Not to say disturbing to the environment.”

“To say the least.”

“It’s also prohibited. There’s federal laws against it. Some of the clouds today hold computer data. If we seeded those and stuff leaked out, it could be a danger to national security. There’s severe penalties for cloud-seeding. Our job now is to avoid clouds. We do our best work in clear skies to get to the atmosphere above the clouds. The lasers, carefully calibrated, alter the molecular structure of the stratosphere, and it’s all done by those computers. They monitor the incoming weather. They analyze, titrate, tell us what settings to use. We have to vary forces and the intensities. It’s all in the mathematics.”

“Wow.”

“All our people are highly trained.”

“I can imagine.”

“Remember the hurricane we had in the early 1980s?”

“Who could forget it.”

“What was its name?”

“Belle, I think.”

“Headed right for us on Labor Day weekend. We shoveled nearly a hundred tons of coal, and that storm changed course three degrees to the east and slipped out to sea without causing any damage.”

“Yeah.”

“Sandy we had a year and a half ago, was a hundred times more powerful. Honestly, I don’t think we budged it more than a quarter of a degree. Huge failure. We gave it our all, though. We used up hundreds of lasers. Some of them melted.”

“I heard about it. Didn’t people die here at the lab?”

“We have a memorial to them in the lobby. It will stay there forever. We will never forget those 11 computer technicians.”

“I couldn’t help noticing that out at the entryway to the facility, you have the American flag on one side and the Russian flag on the other.”

“Yeah. I want to tell you about it.”

“Go ahead.”

“This is a big secret, so don’t tell anybody.”

“I won’t.”

“We have discovered a substance that, when sprinkled into the atmosphere, lowers the carbon levels. We’ve tried it over the East End. I mean, that’s our beat, right? It lowered the carbon levels by five points during just this past week between Montauk and Brookhaven.”

“This is something new?”

“Brand new. And it works.”

“Wow. That’s astonishing. This could have international consequences.”

“Maybe yes, maybe no. It’s experimental.”

“But what’s this got to do with the flags out front?”

“We’re an American lab. But this first batch we sent up, we sent it up to the space station on a Russian rocket. Had to. Since the shuttle program ended, the Russians have to take stuff up. So we’ve got a Russian flag out front. Whatever else happens, the Water Mill Weather Lab is a good friend of the Russian people, is what we are saying, if you will pardon me.”

“So what is this stuff you send up?”

“Well, we don’t know yet if it will work on a large scale. But the day after the Sochi Olympics, we had it sprinkled over Shelter Island as the space station glided over. And it worked.”

“What worked?”

“Promise you won’t tell anybody?”

“Promise.”

“Broccoli. Dried broccoli. Has to be dried and crushed into powder within five days of harvest.”

“It’s put in bottles?”

“Barrels. Look what happened from Shelter Island on out. Calmed down the whole area after that final winter blow. Now it’s sunshine and springtime weather out here.”

“This could save mankind.”

“If there’s enough broccoli.”

“What do you think?”

“Don’t know.”

We were at the end of the mezzanine runway. There’s a bar at the end, for the executive staff, which has its offices at that far end.

“Care for a drink?” Scotty asked. “Long Island Iced Tea?”

“Great idea,” I said.

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