If I ever was to use the phrase “too much of a good thing” about the weather, it would have to be about the climate in Little Rock, Arkansas. When I traveled from my hometown Haugesund, Norway, the first week of March 2001, we had a significant amount of snow on the ground, and when I came to Little Rock, it was almost a Norwegian summer. The average maximum temperature in Little Rock in March is around 20 degrees C (65 degrees F), but it was not long after arrival before it went up considerably. Through the whole summer Arkansans have to endure 35-40 degrees and high humidity. It’s like breathing through steam and a wet towel. I just checked with the weather service before writing the Norwegian version of this and last weekend the temperature was between 25 and 29 as the maximum temperature. Monday morning at 7, it was 17 degrees, but it’ll begin to cool down to a west-Norwegian autumn from now. It was just as bad for my wife when we moved back to Norway. She was freezing constantly for the first two years, even in summer.
I liked the warm weather, at first. Unfortunately, there is always a but. A hot climate usually brings with it a few things you do not want. The most dangerous is probably tornados. Since it is impossible to give much more than 15-20 minutes warning, Americans have developed an effective tornado warning system. Sometimes you only have a couple of minutes, and then it’s important that you have a shelter at home. The important thing is that this is a room without windows, so that you don’t get things flying through the window. Meteorologists give messages through the television channels. On TV in Arkansas there was often a state map that appeared at the bottom corner of the tv-screen. This map was divided into counties, and it flashed where they had a so-called tornado-watch. If it developed into a tornado you were told to turn over a particular channel they used to give audio messages. My wife lived in a nice house with a tower. A tornado tore up the tower shortly before I came to town, but fortunately I did not experience a close encounter with a tornado myself.
If you’ve seen the movie Twister, you might remember the terrified psychologist who suddenly ended up in trouble. Her boyfriend had a past as a “storm chaser” and these inclinations manifested themselves again when he tried to get his ex to sign the divorce papers. The psychologist was speaking with a client on the phone when a tornado surprised them, and she said: “We’ve got cows” when the cows and cars came flying through the air. `I have often thought about how crazy it must have sounded to the person at the other end. The psychologist was becoming a patient herself, and I might have gone down the same road myself if I had ended up in the middle of a violent tornado. There was one time they really reported a touchdown on the emergency channel, and we went into a closet that served as our storm cellar, but luckily nothing happened that time.
What I found really disgusting, about the hot weather, were the insects. It seems that there is a general rule that says that the warmer climate, the bigger and more disgusting the insects are-and there are more of them, too. Believe me, insects were not in short supply. It is estimated that there are between 35 000 and 40 000 species only in Arkansas. It’s not just the summer climate the Southern United States have in common with South America. You can still discover species that scientists have not seen before, and therefore have not been named. Among these tens of thousands of species of insects there are 10 000 beetles, 9,000 species of flies, 8,000 bees and wasps, and 5,000 species of moths and butterflies. The remaining are small groups, but they are bad enough without the same diversity. These include cockroaches and termites. As if this wasn’t enough, there are some that are not insects. There are two poisonous spiders, black widow and brown recluse, and Tarantella (but it is not poisonous). Arkansas also has a number of snake species. Among the most poisonous are rattlesnake, cotton mouth, water moccasins and copper head. These animals generally shun people, but it is certainly a possibility that you can encounter them anywhere. But as long as you do not bathe, go for a walk in the woods, in the hills or in the park, stay in the garden or outdoors at all, you are probably safe. Maybe it’s just as well that it is so hot that enjoying the sun is not an option anyway.
In the very high temperatures they have in Arkansas it would naturally have been very pleasant to throw yourself into the Arkansas River, a side river to the great Mississippi. I never saw anyone swim there, however, and if anyone had tried, it could have very quickly become very uncomfortable. There are in fact snakes there together with alligators and alligator gar (a fish of 2.5 to 3 meters in length which actually kills the alligators). Therefore, it is not hard to stay away from the water. It is worse when the water seeks you. We lived in a house with a crawl cellar. In the aforementioned tornado that tore up the tower, this low cellar was filled with water. An additional problem with tornados is the heavy rain that sometimes accompanies it. That tornado flooded the cellar and what makes that particularly disgusting is that water attracts some animals you do not want. You can get poisonous snakes in the cellar, but there are actually a lot of other things that are just as bad. Arkansas has scorpions and they like water. It is not the poisonous scorpion, but it still kills because of diseases it transfers. It is often the critters that are not toxic that fills me with horror. Arkansas has something called a water bug. I’m not sure what it is, but it looks like a cockroach on steroids. It is at least three times as large. It can also fly. I heard about a woman over there that got one in her hair. Ugh!
If you are unfortunate enough to get the basement filled with water, as we did, it’s a good chance that these fellows move in pretty fast. They smell water and then it is important to seal any holes. I was too chicken to go down and look myself, and I almost went crazy thinking that maybe I had quite a few nasty insects just below me. I have no idea if we had them in the basement, but I didn’t take any chances and got an expert to deal with it.
We had fortunately not any giant cockroaches (I mean, ah waterbugs), but once when I showered at the university after using the fitness center there, I was unfortunate enough to encounter one. A giant waterbug marched quietly along the wall. I jumped away from the wall and asked the man next to me what it was.
“Oh, that’s just a waterbug,” he said indifferently, while he showered on. Chicken as I am I did not dare to stand there anymore. I stood in the middle of the floor and waited until the giant of a cockroach (I mean, ah waterbug) had disappeared before I with trembling steps approached the shower again. I was extremely careful after that, and almost did not dare even sitting on the toilet seat. I have probably seen to many horror movies where these insects play an important role. They are really effective as an intimidating effect. My wife teased me for this. She is of course used to the South. I miss the people of Arkansas, but not the wildlife. I guess I could never be a wild Thornberry (a Nickelodeon animated series about a family that goes to Africa).