D. None of the Above: Did you want to talk about the...

D. None of the Above: Did you want to talk about the weather, or were you just making chitchat?

Bill Murray and Angela Paton in a scene from 'Groundhog Day.'

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Yes, I borrowed the headline from the movie “Groundhog Day,” as Bill Murray’s Phil Connors, discusses the weather with Angela Paton’s Mrs. Lancaster in his hotel in the morning.

Weather has always been a potential safe and easy topic when bumping into a neighbor we don’t know well, meeting the parents of a boyfriend or girlfriend, or breaking uncomfortable silences in, say, the office of the school principal or the boss.

These days, however, weather discussions seem to have changed.

Some of that, whether you believe in or are concerned about global warming or not, reflects the reality of several consecutive mild winters.

We have become so accustomed to milder conditions that a sudden drop in temperature or the forecast for a few inches of snow becomes conspicuous, causing us to reach for our heaviest coats, gloves and hats, and to urge others to “stay warm,” even as newscasts often lead their programs with predictions of “as much as four inches of snow.” Heaven forbid!

Back in the day — okay, I wrote it and those words are like nails on a chalkboard (teenagers may need to look up what a chalkboard is) to the younger version of myself — we had long stretches of time when the temperature fell below freezing, or even below 20. We also had real snow days and not these virtual classes amid storms. Not a fan! Let the kids make snowmen and sled down the hills.

Sure, we get periodic bouts of colder weather, but they don’t seem to last as long.

This has lowered the bar and our tolerance for temperatures that threaten to dry out our skin, make our hands numb and freeze our exposed earlobes.

Even, however, when the weather remains mild for long periods of time and we don’t need to talk about something to fill awkward silences, weather has remained a topic of conversation. Why, for example, does a place like San Diego, which has relatively stable weather day after day, need a weather report? They could just run the same graphic each day, with an occasional break to signal a change. 

Weather, however, reminds us that we’re alive and we get to experience some of the conditions of today. Each day’s weather brings a unique backdrop against which we face possibilities, opportunities, and challenges. Two straight days of weather with the same temperature, dew point, humidity and barometric pressure challenge us to find unique parts of the day, as the changing cloud cover or a slight wind acts like unique whirls in the fingerprints of a day. We might be walking down the street when a subtle shift in the weather helps our brain consider a problem from a new perspective. And, even when the weather doesn’t lend a hand, it helps define the moment.

The way the soft early morning light casts a glow on the bare branches at the top of a tree, while the bottom of the tree awaits in flatter light, allows us to celebrate the gift of our senses.

Movie directors use weather not only to create a backdrop or to establish a man-versus-nature themed challenge, but also to reflect the mood of the moment. 

As a main character grapples with the worst of his shortcomings, he may trudge through a rainstorm. When the clouds slowly part, he can reach an epiphany that helps him become a better version of himself.

The weather, with its unpredictable elements and the effect they have on everything in their path, helps us experience the same trees, the same grass, the same car across the street in a different way. A column of light beaming through clouds can offer ephemeral inspiration.

The weather can be an antagonist or a companion, an enabler or a disruptor, and a headwind or a tailwind in our lives.

Then again, it’s also a safe topic when our potential future father-in-law asks us one of many possible questions we’d rather not answer truthfully, if at all. 

At that point, weather becomes a safe topic for chitchat.