| 3 min read | by Doug Marrin, |

University of Michigan Professor Frank Marsik has a lot of interesting things to say about the weather

We are keenly interested in the weather. Beyond the obvious what to wear, where to go, and what to plant, weather dictates our movements in ways we don’t think about. It defines, even dictates our culture. It is no wonder that we are in awe of such a powerful force. We all want to know what is, has been, and is to come.

“It touches so many different aspects of our lives,” says Frank Marsik, Dexter resident and U of M professor in the Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering. “Like this morning when I had to put on boots, hat, and coat to walk the dog. There’s certainly that practical aspect of it. For some people, that’s the extent of it.”

For other folks, however, it goes much deeper. There are other segments of our population that are impacted by weather more than just figuring out what clothes to wear.


“When I was working in Wisconsin, one of our clients was Delmonte,” says Frank. “We would call them and let them know if they needed to irrigate and things like that. In northern Wisconsin, they grow a lot of celery. Celery is a very sensitive crop. Toward the end of the growing season, we would tell them if there was a freeze coming. They would bring helicopters in to hover over the fields pushing the lighter warm air down to protect the crop.”

It gets deeper still. Weather is engrained into the very fabric of our culture. As much as we sometimes curse snow, it just isn’t Christmas without it. Currier and Ives didn’t make a fortune selling palm trees and cacti strung with tinsel. ‘Frosty the Scarecrow’ just doesn’t have that holiday appeal. And of course, without snow, there would never be the youthful hope of a ‘snow day.’

Weather and climate go hand in hand. Climate determines the weather. Weather trends can often be used to determine climatic drift.

“Some of the work that I do with the University is with indigenous tribes of the Great Lakes and how to consider our changing climate in the protection of some of their traditional ways,” Frank says. “Some of the natural materials that they have used are being impacted by the changing climate. Some of the animals that are very important to their system are maybe no longer viable in their region and this is a problem because the tribes are confined to their reserved lands.”

Frank continues, “So the impact on how people interact with the weather depends on if it’s a merely a health issue of what kind of clothes to wear, to safety when traveling on the roads, on to how ingrained it is in the prosperity of a culture.”

In a lot of ways, if not all ways, weather is THE force that determines all. Even in this day and age with all of our advancements and technology, in the end the weather often has the final word. It is easy to understand how in ancient cultures before science explained the physics of weather, these forces were thought of as the activity of the gods. Even today, most belief systems have stories of weather tied to the activities of their deity.

“In one of the groups I work with, some of the women are considered to be caretakers of water,” explains Frank. “We’ve got fluctuating levels right now in Michigan. The water levels are record highs. Only seven years ago it was the other end of the spectrum. Variable water levels are good for wetland ecosystems, but these extremes are not.”

“When these resources are stressed, it impacts some of the women of these tribes because they are caretakers of the water,” Frank continues. “So when you talk about rituals, or even just education, it impacts what they teach their youth about this precious resource.”

While the close relationship between weather and beliefs may sound antiquated and strange, we may not be as far removed from it as we may think. Science and technology may have changed, but not our reverence.

“You’re hearing the term citizen scientist a lot and in the scientific realm,” Frank says. “People are starting to understand the value and importance of the work of citizen scientists. For example, every morning I go out and I measure the rainfall and enter it into my COCORaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, Snow) Observer app. There are people all over the area with several in Dexter that are doing that.”

“You can open apps like Weather Underground where there is all this weather data from people who have stations in their backyard hooked into the internet,” Frank adds. “People who have been fascinated with the weather but never had the means to do anything can now be involved.”

Frank also told of an educational program called ‘Globe’ which is teaching students about meteorological measurements and how to make them. These students are going out and making measurements of cloud cover, precipitation, or things like that and reporting them. Scientists at universities or government labs can then use that data in ways they never could.

When it comes to our relationship with the weather, Frank told the story of how a presentation at Haskell Indian Nations University changed the way he viewed human interaction with weather.

“The professor doing the presentation described how we sleep in a box, get up in the morning and drive to work in a motorized box where we work in a box, and come home at the end of the day to our box,” he said. “But there are people out there outside of the box, closer to nature, who see the shifts in species and weather patterns. For them, the weather is more than deciding to go out or stay home this evening.”

Regardless of our relationship to the weather, we are astounded. No other single force dictates our lives and movements in such ways that the majority of us don’t even think about it. Everything may change, but there will always be the weather, wild and raw or calm and soothing, seemingly with a mind of its own answering to no one, and in the true sense of the word … awesome.