Weather Hindsight

Monday, August 25, 2014

Community newspapers such as the Topaz Times are a good source for researching the seasonal weather at a particular place. I don’t just mean the temperatures and annual rainfall, although that information is there, too. But community newspapers make the weather come alive by telling how it affected residents.

The Topaz Times didn’t attempt to forecast the weather. Instead, it provided information on the previous day’s highs and lows. On January 19, 1943, for example, this desert community had a low temperature of -9° F and a high of 38° F. On July 9, 1943, the low was 57° and the high was 100°.

The October 17, 1942 issue provided the following statistics: from November through April, the average monthly snowfall was 4.6 inches (ranging from 2.4 inches in November to 7 inches in February). As for rain, the average precipitation for the entire year was 8.16 inches. But these numbers present only part of the story. The real information comes in the vignettes from actual occurrences.

That little bit of rain came with a spectacular show. Here is a description from Tomoye Takahashi’s “Women’s Mirror” column in the July 31, 1943 Topaz Times.

            What a hectic life we lead in Topaz. If it isn’t tolerating the blistering 104-degree heat in the shade (113 in the barracks), it’s being frightened to death by the sort of thunder storms we used to see in the movies. That last one was a humdinger, shooing everyone into the nearest shelter, snatching laundry off clothes lines, and hurtling empty boxes dangerously down the paths. We saw a hat go sailing over the housetops. The most spectacular thing, though, was when the tar roofing above Ed Shiroma’s room, 9-6-A, ripped off going past the Kido’s of SF Tonkin fame all the way to rooms C-D. Then in the terrifying gale, brave men of the neighborhood climbed onto the roof and sat, stood, and crawled over to keep the flapping roofing down while others made motions to tack it in place. All this, under torrential rain and a fierce wind. Oddly enough, there were crowds from adjacent blocks standing in the downpour, just to watch.

But the worst of the weather came from the unpredictable but far too frequent dust storms. If you look closely, you can see one behind the building in the picture at the top of this post.

Here is Evelyn Kirimura’s description of an Easter storm. It appeared in the “To the Women” column in the May 1, 1943 Topaz Times.

            Probably we underwent the oddest Easter weather of all our born days the last weekend. Nowhere else, we believe, with the possible exception of another relocation center, did people venture forth to church services with one hand clutching a wayward hat and another grasping aerial-minded skirts; panting for air; choking on dust; and walking at a 60-degree angle.

Then there were the smaller dust storms that looked like miniature tornados. Here is another description from the “To the Woman” column, this one in the July 10, 1943 edition.

            Still a source of much amazement are the whirlwinds which disturb the still air with a mighty onrush of dust and debris, leaving stunned residents in their wake. Most of us, in an attempt to judge the direction of a whirlwind, have speeded or slowed our pace accordingly. If speed is the element, what more peculiar sight could a visitor view than a group of office girls, seemingly in full possession of their senses, screaming and running in the heat of the mid-day sun.

Temperatures are just temperatures, but weather becomes personal in a community newspaper.


The photograph at the head of this post was taken at Manzanar War Relocation Center on July 3, 1943. Dorothea Lange took the picture as part of her official duties as an employee of the United States government. Because it is a government document, the photo is in the public domain.

All editions of the Topaz Times are also in the public domain.

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