COLUMN: ‘You don’t need a weatherman’

This was my weekly column published in the Sunday, June 7, 2009 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

You don’t need a weatherman
By Aaron J. Brown

Have you ever received a gift that became much more than a gift? Have you ever received a gift that became an obsession?

Flashback: Christmas 2008. It was a bygone era in which concern over the bad economy was still cute, not relevant. Holiday sales were down but in an adorable “this couldn’t possibly shut down the taconite plants on the Iron Range” sort of way. And my dad got us a digital thermometer for Christmas.

Thermometer. The very word strikes fear (or is it loathing?) in the heart of Minnesotans. Thermometers assign numbers to what we already know: It’s cold here, colder than most places and a darn sight colder than places where they make thermometers, especially “digital” thermometers which are really just amusement for high minded cosmopolitans from cities that appear on the national morning shows. We’ve had digital thermometers in the past, each felled by the crippling Northern Minnesota temperatures that we like to call “Pretty cold, eh?”

Not this one, said my dad. This thermometer was from the Weather Channel. (It’s on cable!) This thermometer was not just digital, it was wireless. It was also a barometer, a clock and, believe it or not, a forecaster … not unlike our hu-man “weather people” with their well groomed TV weather talk and pretentious banter about fishing. (Like they know! They wish!) However, this digital thermometer perched in our kitchen window could answer the question that all Northern Minnesotans long to know: “Oh, jeez, can I wear short sleeves today?”

The thermometer tells us: “Yes” or maybe sometimes “No.”

The man goes by the name Oscar. He’s the man who lives in our digital thermometer. The name comes from the instruction manual which promotes Oscar as our one-man wardrobe advisor for any weather conditions. On a cold day Oscar wears a long winter coat and hat. On a warm day he sheds the coat for long sleeves, or even short sleeves if the “mercury” reaches 70. (Ha Ha Ha! Remember mercury?) The, when the temp hits 80, THINGS GET WILD. Oscar strips his shirt and pants and displays his European swimsuit to the delight of digital ladies everywhere.

Except here’s the thing, I get the feeling that Oscar isn’t from around here.

See, Oscar wears his winter coat and stocking cap anytime the temperature hits 45 degrees Fahrenheit. (None of this Celsius commie nonsense for Oscar, unless you hit the “Espanol” button, in which case, “La bienvenida, caciques comunistas”). This month most “summer” mornings have commenced with Oscar in his January attire, only to quickly shed the heavy clothes for the entire spectrum of potential clothing as the temperature hits 80 by late afternoon.

Seriously, Oscar. Just put on short sleeves when you wake up and wear a sweatshirt or something until the sun is all the way up. How many days does it take for you to learn? Even the Cities folks get it after, like, two days. Unfortunately, I get the feeling Oscar was designed by people used to “temperate” climates in places that don’t have two feet of ice in the winter and 90 degrees in the summer. The words “cold” and “hot” are highly relative in northern Minnesota. (“It all depends, don’ cha’ know”) Oscar would do well to learn this. At least he would avoid unnecessary wardrobe changes.

The other challenge Oscar faces has to do with precipitation. Oscar has two moisture modes: “Holding an umbrella” or “Not holding an umbrella.” Sometimes Oscar holds an umbrella when it’s foggy but then goes without one when it’s pouring rain. This probably has to do with where I placed the sensor, but it only begs the question “Where do the TV people put their sensors?”

It remains to be seen how Oscar will fair as he enters the true test of next winter. But this summer we will enjoy seeing this man with the perfectly round head tell us what to wear. He may be digital, but we’re not holding that against him.

Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Contact him or read more at his blog His book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range” is out now.


  1. I think this column clearly needs a photo of Oscar.

  2. Oh yes! Please share a photo of Oscar.

    Great column btw.

  3. I’ll try to snap one when the lighting is right. I agree, you have to see Oscar to FULLY appreciate him.

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