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November-December 2012

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From the Editor

I think many of us have a favorite book from childhood—a book whose evocative descriptions and fascinating stories etched themselves indelibly in our minds. For me, Laura Ingalls Wilder's tales of growing up in the 1800s in DeSmet, South Dakota, were a crucial part of my literary education. Wilder's descriptions of her excitement over receiving an orange as a gift on Christmas morning or receiving a pretty and much coveted piece of fabric to sew a new dress showed both the highs and lows of living the pioneer life in the 1800s.

In her book The Long Winter, Wilder recounts the story of living through a remarkably harsh winter on the Plains in 1880-1881. The deprivation and challenges that Wilder writes about seemed extreme, to say the least. Although Wilder's stories recount her days as a pioneer in South Dakota, they are, technically, fiction. Could her account of the long winter have been fictionalized, or could that winter really have been as bad as she described? Weather records from those years help us reconstruct those long months in 1880-1881 in “The Long Winter: Studying the Climatology of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Hard Winter of 1880-1881,” by Barbara Mayes.

The people living through that harsh winter on the Plains had to deal with many hardships and challenges just to accomplish the most mundane of tasks, such as walking to school. It's a good example of how weather affects every aspect of our lives. In “Weathering Presidential Elections, Rain or Shine,” Allan Eustis talks about another part of life that can be hindered by weather, sometimes with far-reaching effects. Dating back hundreds of years, the weather has long affected voter turnout in presidential elections, and in some cases might even have influenced the outcome of the election. By the time this article is published, we will know how the weather affected the 2012 presidential election polling, but I'm sure both parties are hoping for fair skies on the first Tuesday in November.

Fair skies are in short supply in our other two features this issue. In “Vortex 2: A Closer Look,” Jack Williams takes a closer look at the Vortex 2 tornado chase, looking for answers to some of our more pressing questions about these destructive storms. Meanwhile, in “‘Don't Fence Me In’: Snow Fences Tame Weather by Redirecting Winter's Winds,” Nick D—Alto examines these seemingly simple structures that line our nation's winter highways and how effectively they protect drivers from blowing snow.

It's hard to believe that 2012 is already coming to a close. Weatherwise, it's been quite a year, and no doubt more will be in store for us before the end of the year. I look forward to seeing what 2013 will bring and to analyzing these events for you, our readers, in the pages of Weatherwise.

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