“Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.” — Charles Dudly Warner

Weather can be a deadly serious subject, ranging from wildfires and drought to hurricanes and floods, or it can be the subject of a humorous monologue such as the one performed by comedian George Carlin as Al Sleet, the Hippy Dippy Weatherman: “The weather tonight: dark. Continued dark tonight, turning partly light in the morning.”

Since we now find ourselves in meteorological fall (the months of September, October and November) with astronomical fall not far away and winter right behind it, let’s look at some weird weather words having to do with the cold white stuff. This winter I’m hoping for a lot of blenky, which is a light dusting of snow making the scenery appear almost as if it were covered in ashes.

At the other end of the spectrum, I’m not all that excited about shoveling the heavy snow from a bomb cyclone, which is caused by something called bombogenesis, or the sudden drop in barometric pressure. You know, the kind of storm that’s now referred to as “snowmageddon,” a term that came to be as the result of a Washington Post Twitter poll in 2010.

While the word “blizzard” is frequently applied to a storm that brings a lot of snow, that’s not really what makes it a blizzard. What makes it a blizzard is its sustained wind or frequent gusts of 35 mph (a moderate gale) or more, falling, blowing or drifting snow that limits visibility to a quarter mile or less, and a duration of at least three hours. (The drifts of snow formed by the wind are also known as sastrugi.)

Another thing we have to look forward to during the winter is sleet, which is small ice particles that form from the freezing of liquid water, and should not be confused with graupel (which comes from the German word for sleet), the soft small pellets that are formed when supercooled water droplets freeze onto snow crystals.

And don’t forget freezing rain, that treacherous supercooled liquid that freezes when it makes contact with an object on the ground. (If you’re confused about the difference between sleet and freezing rain, just remember that “sleet pings and freezing rain clings.”)

OK, enough about winter. Let’s think instead about the wonderful weather of summer — you know, the heat, the humidity, the hurricanes.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was suffering through the swullocking (hot, humid) dog days of summer (the period of July 3 through Aug. 11 so named for the dog star Sirius), hoping for some relief. On the previous evening I’d noticed some crepuscular rays (streaks of sunlight coming through the clouds), which I hoped meant that evapotranspiration (evaporation of water into the atmosphere) was taking place.

The petrichor (scent of rain) assured me that we were in for some real precipitation (which is from the Latin “praecipitatio,” or “I fall”), and not just virga (rain that evaporates before reaching the ground). Before long it was raining pickles (pitchforks with the tines pointed down) — real hunch weather (makes you want to hunch your shoulders) — but that soon gave way to a drouth (clear, dry weather perfect for drying laundry). I even spied a weathergaw (rainbow).

All said, Al Sleet seems to have accurately predicted our New England weather in his final forecast: “The weather will continue to change, on and off, for a long long time.”

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.”


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