The opposite of storm chasing
Well, we had quite the exciting weather weekend in Southern Maryland.
If you’ve been with “Right, Meg?” for a little while, you might be familiar with my childhood obsession with tornadoes and storm chasing. Sometime around age 10, I abandoned my dreams of becoming a “famous artist” — whatever that entailed, given my limited talent — to re- search meteorology. Fed in part by the popularity of the 1996 movie “Twister” (aside: ugh, poor Bill Paxton. Weird timing), I thought chasing tornadoes out west in the name of science looked awesome. Even thrilling.
See? I wasn’t always the skit- tish creature before you today.
By the time I began to ap- preciate how much science, mathematics and schooling are required to become a meteorol- ogist, however, my confidence wavered. I’d never excelled in the sciences. I started to consider other paths, ultimately pur- suing an English degree. It all worked out just fine, of course, but that excitable 10-year-old still sometimes wonders “what if.”
In a way, though, I did keep that meteorological fire stoked — if only informally. My fasci- nation with the weather these days translates to keeping up with radar reports, checking weather-related apps on my phone and worshipping the Capital Weather Gang, a group of Washington Post writers who discuss and analyze weath- er events locally and globally. They’re my heroes.
Friends used to call me the “weather cop,” a title earned by updating coworkers con- stantly about changing storm conditions. At our current of- fice location in White Plains, we have a front-row panoramic view of U.S. 301. I give wonder- ful minute-by-minute updates as storms roll in, pulling up local radar as we assess the skyline.
I come by this obsession nat- urally. When forecasters began discussing the possibility of severe storms on Saturday, my parents, sister and I started a group text message thread to share updates. Situated in three different towns within Charles County, it’s amazing how differ- ent the conditions can be only miles apart.
We weren’t home, though. Spencer and I had taken Oliver on an errand to St. Leonard, where ominous black clouds chased us all the way into Calvert County. Once parked, our phones and an old TV set began to buzz with a tornado warning as we looked to the skies. My parents were sending photos of significant hail in Waldorf — so much that their yard looked snow-covered. Nothing was happening yet to the east, but the storms were moving quickly.
Hearing about severe weather gives me a fight-or-flight thrill akin to what I imagine storm chasers feel on the hunt. When I was kid, I would stay up late tracking hurricanes on the Weather Channel as they threatened the East Coast. Dan- gerous fronts rolling through Southern Maryland always prompt me to stop what I’m doing and prepare the basement for a possible hunkering-down, you know? I take alerts seriously. We all should.
As we wrapped up our stop in St. Leonard, I shared the hail photos with my husband and filled him in on the phone alerts. A cooler wind began to howl as we loitered in the parking lot, trying to decide what to do.
Spence checked the radar again. “Looks like we need to go south, not north,” he said. If we headed toward home, we’d be driving straight into the storm.
So it was a tri-county day, as we say; our next stop was Lexington Park. I felt panicky at the idea of ascending the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge in bad weather; I mean, that bridge is scary even on a gentle summer day. But Spencer thought we could outrun the squalls if we gunned it. I gunned it. Solomons sped by in a rain-spattered blur. As we reached the top of the bridge, I asked Spencer half-jokingly if he saw any tornadoes on the hori- zon. We certainly had the view for it. But I soon had texts com- ing in from colleagues about the possibility of an actual Waldorf/ La Plata tornado, so my twister jokes cooled.
As an adult with her kiddo in the car, I’m less than thrilled now at the idea of getting stuck in scary conditions than I would have been as a young weath- er enthusiast. I have a healthy sense of mortality. The goal now is, of course, to run away from potential danger . . . not toward it. Spencer, Ollie and I took ref- uge in a department store (well, you know — I had a return to make, anyway) as the worst of the storms came barreling through St. Mary’s County.
When the wind and rain even- tually gave way to a brilliant sun- set in Lexington Park, it seemed safe to head back. I drove tim- idly along the Waldorf roads we’d heard may have suffered damage from a potential torna- do but, in the darkness, couldn’t see much.
The National Weather Service in Baltimore/Washington, D.C. confirmed that an EF1 twister did touch down Saturday after- noon. It was only in heading to my parents’ home Sunday that we saw the extent of the mess: trees uprooted and snapped along St. Charles Parkway; a light pole smashed in a shopping center parking lot. Broken branches lined the roadway with others leaning precariously on power lines. Given the debris, I’m thankful the destruction was limited and isolated with no reports of injuries.
Seeing it all up close, I did have the urge to jump out and take photos.
Meteorology wasn’t my ultimate path, but the weather cop is always on duty.
PHOTO COURTESY OF LISA SNIDER Hail pelts down like snow Saturday in Waldorf as an EF1 tornado passed through on its path from La Plata.