Uncle Crappy’s alter-ego — let’s call him Weather Freak Boy — was in full glory yesterday. When I arrived at work in the afternoon I checked the National Weather Service’s web site and found that the winter storm watch that had been effect for much of the weekend had just been upgraded to a warning. I started to smile.
I used to hate writing weather stories, mostly because the managing editor at my previous paper constantly assigned dumb ones. The classic example was when he asked for a story about a raging heat wave because the air conditioner in his house had run nonstop for two weeks. Everyone else in the newsroom thought “Umm, it’s summertime? You know … hot?” but that didn’t matter much to the editor, who ended any argument with his signal that the decision was final and you were screwed: “People’ll read it.”
(The Wife just pointed out that she, as an intern, was the one assigned to deal with that story. She came up with a brilliant suggestion for art to go with the piece — she called a local restaurant and asked them to see if it was hot enough to cook an egg on the sidewalk. It wasn’t.)
Dumb weather stories were one thing, but legitimate weather stories were — and still are — something else. Especially since I completed the evening-long class NWS class to earn certification as a Skywarn member — the pinnacle of amateur weather dorkdom. One of the staff members from the Pittsburgh office puts on a series of classes every spring and fall, offering information about severe weather and what the weather service wants its spotters to report: snowfall in certain increments, wind damage, hail and its size and frequency and, of course, tornados and all the associated havoc.
I had come to appreciate the more technical aspects behind weather prediction, and I tried to include that information in my stories whenever I had the opportunity. Sometimes the weather service guys don’t want to cooperate, because they’re busy, surly or both. There are a few in the Pittsburgh office, on the other hand, are as enthusiastic a weather dork as I am and are always willing to discuss the nuance behind the weather that’s coming or that’s just rolled through.
My colleagues are aware of my, um, issues, and they humor me whenever I start babbling. I did have a chance to show off for a couple of them last summer, while we stepped out behind the building for a smoke break. We knew some good thunderstorms were on the way, but so far the weather service hadn’t yet issued a warning for our area. The smokers lounge at the paper is a little landing next to the back loading dock, which faces east. The sky was starting to darken, and although it wasn’t windy where we were standing, I looked up and noticed that the front edge of the cloud bank overhead was actually rotating in a sweeping, counterclockwise circle. Bad stuff was going to be coming from that cloud in short order.
“The weather service is going to issue a thunderstorm warning with this one, and maybe a tornado watch as well,” I told my two smoking buddies. “And they’re going to do it soon.”
My friends wanted to know how I knew this. I said I was going to tell the weather service to do so.
And I went back inside, called in a spotter report for the rotation, turned one of the newsroom TVs to The Weather Channel and sat back to wait. I know I didn’t make the only call, but NWS issued a tornado warning about 10 minutes later, based in part on spotter calls.
Were my friends impressed? Maybe a little, but the episode mostly served to reinforce what they already knew. Weather Freak Boy.
I got to talk with one of the good NWS guys last night, and was able to write a discussion about how the two low pressure systems might interact and what different scenarios would mean for weather in Pittsburgh area through Tuesday. My story wasn’t overly alarmist, but it did say that we could get eight or ten inches of snow through Tuesday afternoon.
The storm actually started a little more slowly than NWS had predicted, and our executive editor was blowing me shit, in a good-natured way, about my story’s forecast. So when we returned from afternoon errands at the same time, walking through the parking lot in a squall so heavy it was hard to see across the street, I walked up next to him and smiled: “See?”
Yeah. Weather Freak Boy.