Once again the last holiday of summer is upon us and that means a final chance for summer picnics, family reunions, end-of-season parties, and beginning-of-season football tailgates. There will inevitably be a lot of conversational chatter going on, so it's important for you to be armed with a host of chit-chat worthy topics that will not inspire a fist fight.


This year, unfortunately, the foremost topic of conversation is bound to be Hurricane Harvey. The devastation and human misery caused by this epic storm is difficult to imagine. For those of us in Northern Michigan, it might be an interesting exercise to equate the hurricane's flooding with something we experience ourselves – snow. 


There are several ways to equate rainfall with snowfall, but AccuWeather explains the snow to liquid ratio this way: “Light, fluffy snow is different from heavy, wet snow. The temperature can have a huge impact on the amount of snow as well as how much it weighs. The snow ratio compares the amount of liquid precipitation with the number of inches of snow. In colder weather, snow has more air space so there are more inches of snow. Wet snow that falls at the freezing mark is usually sloppy and heavy.” 


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a chart “...that gives a statistical relationship between amounts of snow that fall and the corresponding water equivalent at specified temperature ranges.” The chart indicates that at a temperature range of 28-34 degrees (pretty common in Michigan) the snow depth equivalent of one inch of rain is ten inches of snow. So, Houston's 50 inches of rain would equal about 500 inches of snow for us – about 41 feet. Even if this calculation is only half right, that's still over twenty feet of snow. (


Now try to visualize a snowstorm that dumped 41 feet of snow in our region. All single story (and most two-story) houses would be covered. How could you even open your door? How could you shovel a path from your house to the street? How would crews even begin to plow the roads; where would they put the plowed snow? How can you check on an elderly neighbor when their house is 15 feet below the surface of the snow? 


Oh, by the way, no electricity. No heat. Your cell phone is dead. The water treatment plant is buried in snow. Your car won't be uncovered until spring. No stores can get supplies because all the roads into the region are blocked. Those prescriptions you ordered online are not coming. The dog is at the door scratching to get out. I could go on, but you get the picture. Harvey is a catastrophe of overwhelming proportions and will take an epic effort by all Americans, not just Texans, to mitigate the suffering.  


This is pretty heavy stuff, but there are some lighter chit-chat topics that will surely fill in some dead-air time. This may come as no shocker, but apparently men swear more than women. “Messaging software firm Liveperson analyzed politeness when people converse with customer service representatives (phone or online chat). They determined: “Men swore 16.5 per cent more often than women in their chats.” 


Added to this, men tend to use “hard” swearwords. (Fill in the blanks on your own.) Women, on the other hand, use "softer" words to express their frustration (such as "goodness" and "shoot"). Customers were least likely to swear at representatives from financial institutions and most likely to swear in chats with firms such as cable TV providers and companies in the pharmaceutical industry. (


This weekend also is the real beginning of the college football season, so many get-togethers will involve watching televised games. You might wonder, however, why Michigan is playing Florida at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, just four hours north of Houston. I mean, is it really a good idea (given Hurricane Harvey,) to put 100,000 football fans on Texas roads thus tying up valuable state resources? Ah, the easy answer is money. Each school will get $6 million to play at a neutral site. 


This weekend will also see many “big” schools thumping on smaller schools in order to hopefully record an almost guaranteed win. Why would small schools submit to being pummeled like this? Easy, again it's the money. Arkansas State will get $1,650,000 to travel to Nebraska. Western Michigan will earn $1,150,000 to let USC smoosh them. Michigan State will give Bowling Green $900,000 for their troubles and even Central Michigan forked over $400,000 to Rhode Island last night. Hey, cheap wins don't come cheap. (


Food is a big part of any party, so that might bring the “five second rule” into play. The non-scientific theory is that if you pick up dropped food from the floor within five seconds it's safe to eat because there is not enough time for contamination to take place. Is this true?


This is where actual science might come into the discussion. “Donald Schaffner, a food microbiologist at Rutgers University, conducted the only other peer-reviewed five-second rule study. His findings showed that longer contact times with a contaminated floor resulted in the transfer of more bacteria. Schaffner found that the type of food, as well as the surface on which the food fell, also influenced the amount of bacteria transferred. Wet foods were more likely to pick up bacteria, and surfaces such as carpets were less likely to transfer bacteria. These factors are important to consider when weighing whether to apply the five-second rule. A relatively dry piece of food like a piece of cereal, is less likely to pick up bacteria.”



Finally, if all the chit-chat just is too tiring and all you want to do is go into a corner and quietly read something, you might consider “Ten Ways To Fight Hate: C Community Resource.” It's a free download at:


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at and