It’s easy to forget, sometimes, just what a big country the USA is. For a Brit, one of the best ways to grasp this size is to take a look at the weather. This is today’s national forecast map from the Weather Channel. Take a look at the temperature variations.
It’s about 3,800 miles as-the-crow-flies from Philadelphia to LA, yet in all that vast distance there is little change in language or culture. Yes, I know, people in rural Pennsylvania might think California is like a foreign country; and fizzy drinks are called either soda, coke or pop depending on where you are. But these differences are pretty superficial.
To put it in perspective, 3,800 miles is just a bit more than the avian distance from London to Van in the far east of Turkey — a journey that would take the weary crow across the skies of Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and the entire width of the Black Sea. Think about how much language and culture changes on that journey and you’ll see what I mean about American culture being relatively homogenous from a geographic point of view. (There’s a lot of variation within the country ethnically, but I’d bet that an Italian-American family in Philadelphia has much more in common with an Italian-American family in LA, than would almost any family in Leicester with one in eastern Turkey.)
But sometimes there’s a news story that brings home to me just what a bloody big country this is — and today it’s the weather. Specifically, weather disasters. In the past 48 hours the news here has been full of images from Tennessee, where a horrendous wild fire in the Great Smoky Mountains has prompted the evacuation of thousands of people, including the residents of the town of Gatlinburg in the mountainous eastern part of the state. These are just two of the pictures currently posted on the Weather Channel site.
Meanwhile, a winter storm has been barreling across the northern plains states, leaving four feet (yes, FEET) of snow in the mountain areas of Wyoming and threatening the protestors camped out at the Dakota Access Pipeline protest in Standing Rock, North Dakota. Today’s temperature in Elk Mountain Wyoming is forecast to reach a high of 20 degrees fahrenheit — that’s -6 celsius. After swinging across Canada, the storm is now threatening the northern parts of New England, in the north-eastern US.
Severe thunderstorms have been pounding their way across south-eastern parts of the country, and deadly tornadoes ripped through Alabama and Tennessee last night. The storms continue to threaten north-eastern Louisiana and Mississippi. This local weather map from last night gives stark warning.
And, out in Los Angeles, it’s been warm and dry and sunny, with today’s high forecast at 76 degrees (19 celsius). Actually, it’s too dry — drought continues to plague much of the western seaboard.
Here in the Delaware Valley region, we’ve had very mild temperatures for a few days — today’s high should reach 61 fahrenheit, or 16 celsius. But, it’s been raining steadily for over 24 hours, and is forecast to keep raining for the rest of the day. After an unusually dry couple of months, this is actually quite welcome; although, all the leaves that have fallen over the past couple of weeks are now sodden masses clogging the gutters and downspouts, making roads and pavements downright treacherous.
Less welcome was the dense fog we woke up to this morning. This is a lovely picture from the “Only in Your State” website, of downtown Philadelphia’s skyscrapers disappearing into the fog — driving through it is much less appealing. Preferable, though, to wildfire, heavy snow or tornadoes.