Monday, April 24, 2006

COLUMN: Weatherpocalyse!

I've been a tad bit sneaky, Quad Cities. My last two columns were written well in advance of deadline. While you thought I was hard at work, I was actually on a well-deserved roadtrip to Florida and back with my best friend. I returned last week eager to share my tales of ocean-front exploration (and the strange land betwixt here and there which the natives refer to as "Kentucky.") That'll have to wait.

You see, Mother Nature had her own plans for this week's column. I had barely managed to haul my suitcase out of the car when nothing less than Weatherpocalyse (TM) came bearing down on the Cities of Quad.

Now, I won't be so crass as to make light of a serious storm that took one life and caused countless injuries and property damage. And to see The Union Bar -- one of my favorite haunts in Iowa City -- with its roof collapsed made me grimace the next morning. Storms suck. It's one of the many trade-offs we get to deal with in the Midwest. The south gets hurricanes, the west gets earthquakes, and we get stuck with the tornados. To not recognize the dangers and horrifying aftermath of a tornado strike is, well, stupidity incarnate.

That said, they ARE kinda cool, right? Maybe I'm a total idiot, but I've always had a thing for tornados. The fact that the happy little cloud puffs we see every day can occasionally get an attitude and send cows flying through the air makes my blood pump. When I was a kid, I honestly had dreams of one day becoming a meteorologist (until I realized that meterology is a science, and science requires math, and well, that pretty much leaves my mathematically-challenged brain out of the equation.)

Still, extreme weather continues to fascinate me. I'd love to one day see a tornado with my own eyes. Provided, of course, that I was at a safe and secure location, like perhaps at a Tornado Zoo or something. Plus, I'd hate to think that while I'm getting my jollies watching a twister, Farmer Joe's losing his entire life's work.

Regardless, while you and yours were probably doing the smart thing last week and seeking shelter in your basements, me and my tornado fetish were staring out windows and channel-flipping for news coverage. That's when I realized that, when it comes to tornados, there's one animal out there crazier than myself.

I speak, of course, of our local TV weathermen. What we see as an impending disaster, they see as a chance to finally roadtest their new-fangled Super Ultra Deluxe Doppler-o-Matic thingajigs. I was an eager viewer.

I started on KWQC TV-6, where our main man Terry Swails was doing a great job of sending people to shelter. Unfortunately, he was doing this against a background of total and complete neon nonsense. Can ANYONE without a degree in Meterology understand their new radar display? All I saw was a bunch of swirling circles in front of a sea of blinking, psychedelic colors. I couldn't say for certain, but I'm pretty sure the forecast was calling for a 40% chance of grooving to an Electric Prunes record.

Meanwhile, over on WQAD Newschannel 8, Neil Kastor was like a kid in a candy store. While Terry brought gravity to the situation, Neil brought the excitement. There he was, jacket off, tie loosened, head buried in a bank of computer screens, gleefully saying things like "Wow! This is a CLASSIC storm!" and "Look at that rotation!" You can tell that Neil's not just a weather MAN, he's a weather FAN. WQAD recently updated their Doppler thingy, too. And from what I could see, their kajillion-dollar upgrade pretty much consisted of: an arrow. A big, fat arrow on the middle of the radar screen that uses precision science to tell us: "Yep, the storm's movin' that-a-way."

I won't kid the weather guys too badly, though. It's due to their hard work and great coverage that more lives weren't ruined from this sudden storm. And it was good that Neil's SuperDopplerArrow thingy ended up pointing AWAY from the QC metro area, as much of our region got spared the brunt of the storm.

After seeing the news the next day, maybe I didn't want to see the tornado too badly after all. Looking at Iowa City made me yearn for a boring ol' 100 degree sweltering summer day in Rock Island. Actually what it REALLY made me yearn for was to be back on the beach... but more on that next week (barring, say, a typhoon or something.)


quirkychild said...

Really nice column, so true.

I couldn't make head or tail of the radar screen either, except it was big and red and swirly and scary looking.

The meterologists weren't very reassuring either. Terry's gravitas made me more nervous, and Neil's enthusiasm was even worse. Whatever gets a weatherman that wound up and off the script can't be good.

I'm afraid I'm not such an extreme weather fan as you are. I would be happy if the tornoados roosted somewhere else and never blew by.

Anonymous said...

You, NatureBoy, were on a beach? But...the beach is...outdoors!



Anonymous said...

I'm more amazed that NatureBoy here was as gungho about watching the storms as I was. But then, he's always surprising me.

I would think that being in Florida would *require* going to the beach. Altho' doing so in pants and tennis shoes kinda defeats the purpose. ;)

/s/ the real 'me'

Anonymous said...

OK, so I wondered about your beach attire as well. Where was your speedo and aviator glasses, Brown?
And, I love the concept of a Tornado Zoo. Yesh. With Christopher Lloyd as the docent.