The op­po­site of storm chas­ing

Maryland Independent - - Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

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.

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