Contrary to popular belief, New Orleans does have distinctive seasons—even more than the usual “four seasons.” It’s New Orleans, so of course we do not conform to what others might expect, and this goes for our weather and the other seasons unique to us.
Our autumn rolls in around the time our neighbors to the north are already in deep-freeze mode with that crazy white stuff falling from the sky everywhere. Sweat begins to abate a wee bit here in the later part of October; our air conditioners slowly begin their vacation from a 24/7 work load (let’s all stop and give those window units and central a/c compressors a round of applause), and our socks and long-sleeved apparel return to the forefront of our closets and drawers (sweaters and coats, hold your horses—it’s not remotely cold enough yet!).
I hear new transplants to our city bemoan the absence of the “changing of the leaves” (like it’s some ritual or something), and I say, “Have ya looked at a crepe myrtle lately?” They represent fall, winter, spring, and summer down here. Their autumn leaves turn into a riot of color and then shed, leaving bare branches to rival any winter scene. In spring the bright green returns, and one day buds appear. Before you can finish a cold beer, they have bloomed and will continue flowering all summer. They also create mini snow flurries when hot summer breezes shake and shed blossoms white as snow, rivaled only by the red and pink myrtles that carpet our sidewalks in Technicolor confetti.
There are seasons within seasons here in New Orleans. Our autumn is host to hurricane season (until November 1), along with our Halloween season, when traditional autumn orange (orange twinkle lights!) and pumpkin hues embellish homes, yards, and businesses. Our city is ground zero for Halloween enthusiasts, making it a destination for visitors. Even Thanksgiving is given a place of honor in the decoration of our front porches. Next, we segue into our winter and the festivities that light and illuminate our town. Some regions boast blankets of white snow and equate this phenomenon with the holidays. We still experience enough cold (even if air-conditioned) air to wear our tacky Christmas sweaters.
Of course, every few years we will suffer through a real cold spell; snow might even fall and stick to our year-round green lawns for a few minutes—an anomaly that occurs with a degree of regularity. (Yes, inconsistency is consistent here.) The city shuts down, as we do not know how to maneuver icy roads (or any roads, anytime). And we scurry to find that winter coat and extra socks. Last year we really had some cold—deep and sustained freezing, ice, and broken pipes. If you are new here, perhaps your inflated rent (that seemed so reasonable compared to New York) included decent heating and insulation, but most renters here have floors with a view of the great outdoors (think skylight, but on the floor). We, and many others, ran our furnace at 95 degrees and still had to put down cardboard, blankets, and finally, desperately, even dirty laundry across the floors (the washeteria closed, due to frozen pipes). We love, love, love our old homes here, but when we do catch a spell of Arctic air like we did this past winter, there is nothing much else to do. My cat huddled under a lamp for warmth.
However, the great thing about our winters is they don’t last long, and before you know it, those sandals are back on and that coat is merely a bathrobe for when you walk the dog at night. This is when we’ll discuss our other season within a season—Carnival. The trees are draped with our seasonal moss of purple, green, and gold beads, and winter apparel turns into costuming.
Spring occurs twice a year here. The first season of spring is pretty much in keeping with other regions of our country—March, April, and May. Sure, snow has fallen in March, and azaleas have blossomed in late February, but one can pretty much depend upon spring to fully stake its claim in our gardens mid-March. The second New Orleans spring is brief, appearing between that last bit of blistering summer heat and sweater weather. Our early autumn is so mild and such a relief in our sweat box of a city that plants begin the bloom in earnest, and folks get giddy with “spring fever.” But I digress—let’s go back to our real spring. After Mardi Gras a very brief “timeout” occurs, and then festival season kicks butt for several months. Yes, we are known for festivals and gala events year-round, but spring is the reason we can keep them back-to-back. My favorite New Orleans season is Jazz Fest. And during this two-week period of unparalleled performances, just about all varieties of weather are showcased, from cool(ish) temps and rain—serious rain—to relentless sun and a preview of the hot summer to come.
This is when our longest season begins. As Jazz Fest bids us goodbye, the summer season, like a slow burn, begins its six-month rant. May—Oh, my gawd, I can’t believe this what we have in store for summer. June—Oh, why couldn’t May last longer? July—Why the hell would people in their right minds want to grill for the 4th and, to make matters worse, eat outdoors? August’s hurricane season begins to roar, and then, in September—the height of this threat and, generally, the hottest month—all we can say is Yipes!
And this brings us to now. Hurricanes are nothing to trifle with. Have a plan. And yes, this is the time you wonder why you moved here. You must love this town deeply to make it—we’re hoping your affection runs deep.