Summer Snow Storm

by Stephen Marlowe

Tags: Science Fiction, Novel-Classic,

Desc: Science Fiction Story: Snow in summer is of course impossible. Any weather expert will tell you so. Weather Bureau Chief Botts was certain no such absurdity could occur. And he would have been right except for one thing. It snowed that summer.

It was, as the expression goes, raining cats and dogs. Since the Weather Bureau had predicted fair and warmer, the Weather Bureau was not particularly happy about the meteorological state of affairs. No one, however was shocked.

Until it started to snow.

This was on the twenty-fifth of July in the U.S.A...

Half an hour before the fantastic meteorological turn of events, Bureau Chief Botts dangled the forecast sheet before Johnny Sloman’s bloodshot eyes and barked, “It’s all over the country by now, you dunderhead!” Then, as an afterthought: “Did you write this?”

“Yes,” said Sloman miserably.

Slowly, Botts said, “Temperature, eighty degrees. Precipitation expected: snow. Snow, Sloman. Well, that’s what it says.”

“It was a mistake, Chief. Just--heh-heh--a mistake.”

“The prediction should have been for fair and warmer!” Botts screamed.

“But it’s raining,” Sloman pointed out.

“We make mistakes,” said Botts in a suddenly velvety voice. Then, as if that had been a mistake, bellowed: “But not this kind of mistake, Sloman! Snow in July! We have a reputation to maintain! If not for accuracy, at least for credulity.”

“Yes, sir,” said Johnny Sloman. One of the troubles was, he had a hangover. Although, actually, that was a consequence of the real trouble. The real trouble was his fiancee. Make that his ex-fiancee. Because last night Jo-Anne had left him. “You--you’re just going no place at all, Johnny Sloman,” she had said. “You’re on a treadmill and--not even running very fast.” She had given him back the quarter-carat ring tearfully, but Johnny hadn’t argued. Jo-Anne had a stubborn streak and he knew when Jo-Anne’s mind was made up. So Johnny had gone and gotten drunk for the first time since the night after college graduation, not too many years ago, and the result was a nationally-distributed forecast of snow.

Chief Botts’ first flush of anger had now been replaced by self-pity. His red, loose-jowled face was sagging and his eyes became watery as he said, “At least you could have double-checked it. As a member of this Bureau you only have to fill out the forecast once every ten days. Is that so hard? Is there any reason why you should predict snow for July 25th?” His voice became silky soft as he added, “You realize, of course, Sloman, that if this was anything but a civil service job you’d be out on your ear for a stunt like this! Well, there are other ways. I can pass over you for promotion. I intend to pass over you until the crack of doom. You’ll be a GS-5 the rest of your working life. Are you satisfied, Sloman? Snow in July...” Chief Botts’ voice trailed off, the Chief following it.

Johnny sat with his head in his hands until Harry Bettis, the GS-5 weatherman who shared his small office with him, came in. Naturally, hangover or no, Johnny had reported for work first. Johnny was always first in the office, but it didn’t seem to do any good. Now, Harry Bettis could come in an hour late and read the funnies half the day and flirt with the secretarial staff the other half and still be Chief Botts’ odds-on favorite for the promotion that was opening next month. Harry Bettis was like that.

He came in and gave Johnny the full treatment. First the slow spreading smile. Then the chuckle. Then the loud, roaring belly-laugh. “Gals outside told me!” he shouted, loud enough so the girls outside would know he knew they had told him. “Snow! Snow in July! Sloman, you kill me! You really do!”

“Do you have to shout?” Johnny said.

“Do I? We all ought to shout this. To the rooftops! Sloman, my foot. You have a new name, sonny. Snowman! Johnny Snowman.”

[Illustration: Thick mud held him while terror ravened at his heels.]

Johnny groaned. Instinctively, he knew the name would stick.

“Hear you had a little trouble with the gal-friend this past p.m.,” Harry Bettis clucked in a voice which managed to be both derisive and sympathetic.

“How did you find out?” Johnny asked, but knew the answer at once. Jo-Anne was a roommate of one of the Bureau Secretaries. It was how Johnny had met her.

“You know how I found out, Snowman. Well, that’s tough luck, kiddo. But tell me, does that mean the field is wide open? I always thought your gal-friend--your ex-gal-friend--had the cutest pair of--”

“I have nothing to do with whether the field is open or not open, I’m afraid.”

“Well, don’t be. Afraid, I mean,” Harry Bettis advised jovially. “If the gal could make you pull a boner like that, you’re better off without her. But I forgot to ask Maxine: can I have little Jo-Anne’s phone number? Huh, boy?”

Before Johnny could answer, the three-girl staff of secretaries entered the small office. Entered--and stared.

“That’s all right, girls,” Harry Bettis said. “You didn’t have to follow me in here. I’d have been right out.”

But they weren’t staring at Harry Bettis. They were staring at Johnny. Their mouths had flapped open, their eyes were big and round. Johnny didn’t, but Harry Bettis knew that look on a girl’s face. Without any trouble at all, Johnny could have made any of those girls, right there, right then, without even trying.

They gawked and gawked. One of them pointed at the window. The others tried to, but their hands were trembling.

The one who was pointing squawked: “Look!”

The second one said, “Out the window!”

The third one said, “Will you!”

Outside the window on the twenty-fifth of July it was snowing.


It was an hour later. Telephones were ringing. Long-distance calls from all over the country now that the ticker had gone out with the incredible fact that it was snowing in the Northeast in July. Most of the calls, though, were from Washington. Chief Botts disconnected the PBX and walked in a dazed, staggering fashion to Johnny, smiling weakly and saying:

“Sloman, I misjudged you. Genius, right here, right now, in this office, and we never knew it. Sloman, I have to admit I was wrong about you. But how did you know? How did you ever know?”

“Hell’s bells,” Harry Bettis said before Johnny could say it was all a mistake. “That’s easy, Chief. Anyone knows that all rain starts out as snow. It’s got to. You see, the droplets of moisture in the cold upper regions of a cloud condense around dust particles because the air up there is too cold to hold them as vapor. Since it’s below freezing, snow is formed--snow which warms up as it passes through hotter air en route to the ground, and--”

“That will be quite enough, Bettis,” Chief Botts said. “I am a weatherman too, you know. You don’t have to tell me the most elementary of--”

“In this case, Chief,” Bettis persisted, “the biggest inversion layer you ever saw kept the surface air down and brought the cold upper air very close to the surface. Result: the snowflakes didn’t have a chance to melt, not even to freezing rain. Result: snow!”

“The chances of that happening,” said Chief Botts coldly, “are about one in a billion. Aren’t they, Sloman, dear fellow?”

“One in two billion,” Johnny said.

“He is modest,” Chief Botts told the staff. “He seems so unconcerned.”

Just then Maxine came into the little office. The look of awe on her face had been replaced by one of sheer amazement. “Well, I checked it, Chief,” she said. “Wait until I tell Jo-Anne!”

“Won’t you please tell us first?” Chief Botts asked.

“Yes, sir,” said Maxine, and read from the memo pad in her hand. “Since coming to work for the Bureau, Johnny Sloman has once every ten days made our official forecast. I have checked back on his forecast, Chief, as you directed. Johnny has made fifty-five forecasts. While only one of them--startlingly--has called for snow in July--every single one of them has been right.”

There was a shocked silence. “But--but the Weather Bureau average is only eighty-eight percent!” Harry Bettis gasped.

“You mean,” Chief Botts corrected him, “eighty-eight percent is the figure we try to foist on the unsuspecting public. Actually, the Weather Bureau averages a bare seventy-five percent, and you know it.”

“But Sloman’s got a hundred percent accuracy--up to and including snow in July,” Harry Bettis said in a shocked voice.

“It was only an accident,” Johnny said in a mild voice. “I didn’t mean to write snow.”

“Accident, smaccident,” said Harry Bettis. “It was no accident with a record like that. You have the uncanny ability to forecast weather with complete accuracy, Johnny-boy. You realize what that means, old pal?”

“I’d better call Washington and tell them,” Chief Botts said, but Harry Bettis held his arm while Johnny mused:

“I guess I realize what it means, Harry. That is, if you’re right. No more getting wet on picnics. Because I’d know. I’d know, Harry. No more going to ball games and having them rained out on you. No more being caught by a thunderstorm at the beach...”

“Johnny!” Harry Bettis said. “Think, pal. Think!”

“I’m calling Washington,” Chief Botts said. “This is too much for me.”

But Harry Bettis was still holding his arm. “Now, just a minute, bucko,” he said. “You’re not calling anyone--not without his manager’s permission.”

“Whose manager’s permission?”

“Why, Mr. Sloman’s manager’s permission, of course. In a word, me.”

“This is preposterous!” Chief Botts cried.

“Is it?” Bettis asked. “Listen, Johnny, don’t let anyone sell you a bill of goods--like the Civil Service Commission giving you a GS-8 rating and sending you to Washington. Because stick with me, kid, and there’ll be great things in store for you, you’ll see.”

“Such,” said Maxine dubiously, “as what?”

“Are you on our side?” Harry Bettis asked her suspiciously.

“I’m on Jo-Anne’s side. If old Johnny here has something she ought to have, I want to know it.”


“You mean, if she ought to change her mind and marry him? I’ll admit it even if I think Jo-Anne’s a real cute trick: she’d be nuts if she didn’t.” Women, Harry Bettis did not add, never came between Harry Bettis and ten percent of a gold mine. But that’s what he was thinking. He went on: “Just think of it, Johnny. Drought in the Midwest. They call Sloman. Sloman predicts rain. It rains. Have any idea what they’d pay for a stunt like that? Or swollen rivers in New England, or California. Looks like another big flood is on the way, but they call Sloman. Looks like rain, kiddo? That don’t matter. Predict a dry spell and it won’t rain. Do you know,” Harry Bettis said in a devout whisper, “what a stunt like that would be worth? Millions.”

“Yeah, wise guy,” said Maxine. “So what’s in it for you?”

Harry Bettis did not look at Maxine when he answered. He looked at Johnny and said, “I’ll be frank, kiddo. You have the talent, but you don’t have the salesmanship to promote it. Do you want a mediocre job while the weather boys exploit you for the rest of your life or--do you want greatness, riches, and Jo-Anne?”

“Jo-Anne,” Johnny said.

Harry Bettis nodded. “My price is twenty-five percent.”

“Of Jo-Anne?” Maxine asked suspiciously.

“Of everything Johnny makes as the world’s first real Weather Man. Not a forecaster--a commander. Because when my client forecasts the weather, it happens. Brothers and sisters, it happens.” He turned abruptly to Johnny, said, “You have any money saved up?”

“A few hundred dollars, but--”

“An ad in the papers. Alongside the article telling how it snowed on July twenty-fifth. Saying that your services are for hire. We’re a shoo-in, kid!”

“Well, if you say so,” Johnny said doubtfully.

“So don’t call D.C.,” Bettis told Chief Botts.

“But Sloman’s an employee of this Bureau.”

“Was, you mean.”

“What did you say?”

“Was an employee. He ain’t an employee now. He’s quitting--with his manager,” said Harry Bettis, and walked out of the office, steering a dazed Johnny Sloman with him.

“Wait until I call Jo-Anne,” Maxine said.

During the next six months, Johnny Sloman--known to the world as The Weather Man--made fifty million dollars. Since it had taken a whole lifetime for him to develop his remarkable talent, his lawyers were trying to have capital gains declared on the earnings rather than straight income tax. The odds seemed to be in their favor.

How had Johnny made his fifty million dollars? By predicting the weather. He predicted:

A flood in the Texas panhandle--in time to save the dry lands from going entirely arid.

An end of the snowstorms in northern Canada--which had trapped the five hundred residents of a small uranium-mining town without food or adequate drinking water.

The break-up of Hurricane Anita--which had threatened to be the most destructive ever to strike the Carolina Coast.

No frost for Florida that winter--a prediction still to be ascertained, but a foregone conclusion.

Every prediction had come true. In time, the world began to realize that his predictions were not predictions at all: they were sure things. That is, they predicted nothing--they made things happen. Johnny was in demand everywhere and naturally could not fill all engagements. Harry Bettis hired a whole squad of corresponding secretaries, whose job it was to turn down, with regret, some ninety percent of the jobs requested. Johnny, in fact, was in such demand, that his engagement to Jo-Anne--which, of course, had been reinstated at her insistence--remained only an engagement. The nuptials were put off, and put off again.

This suited Harry Bettis, who saw to it that Johnny kept putting off the marriage. Because, ultimately, Jo-Anne would reach the end of her proverbial tether and decide that Harry’s twenty-five percent, if it could be shared as a wife, was better than Johnny’s seventy-five percent, if it could not.

Jo-Anne, though, was not that kind of girl. Harry Bettis, knowing no other kind of girl, never understood that.

The scientists, meanwhile, had a field day with Johnny. His strange talent obeyed no natural law, they said, and at first attributed it to random chance. Soon, though, this became patently impossible. And so a new natural law was sought. All types of hair-brained theories were proposed, none of them accepted, until an osteopathic physician in Duluth, Minn., hit upon the theory that staggered the world with its simplicity and, eventually, was accepted as that which explained the strange phenomenon of Johnny Sloman.

The osteopath, many of whose patients suffered from rheumatism which was aggravated by the bitter Minnesota winters, suggested that Johnny Sloman was a case of rheumatism in reverse. The weather, he pointed out, had an adverse effect upon the symptoms of his patients. Conversely, why couldn’t some human being--a Johnny Sloman, for example--affect the weather in precisely the same way that the weather invariably affected his rheumatic patients?

It was clear, simple, lucid. It was the only theory which could not be disproven by the weight of scientific knowledge. It thus became the accepted theory.


“The Under-Secretary of Defense to see you,” Maxine said one day during the winter following Johnny’s July snowfall.

“Don’t see him,” Harry Bettis said. “You don’t want to see him.”

“But why not?” Johnny asked.

“Because they’ll make you a dollar-a-year man and we’re not in this to make any stinking dollar a year,” Harry Bettis said.

“Well, I think I ought to see him, anyway. At least see him.” He turned to Jo-Anne, who was sitting at the next desk, writing up some reports. “What do you think, Jo?”

“If the country needs you, Johnny,” she said, “it’s your duty to help.”

Johnny told Maxine, “Show the Under-Secretary in, please.”

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