Thursday, April 04, 2019

COLUMN: Winter Storm Bruce


Once upon a time, I really liked winter.

I used to proudly tell anyone within earshot that winter was my absolute favorite time of the year. It has SO much going for it. There's no oppressive heat or humidity. There's no bugs, bees, snakes, or any of that gross nature stuff. Everything's white and crisp. Sometimes everything is SO white and SO crisp that they cancel school. Sledding is crazy fun. Mom makes you cocoa. You get PRESENTS. Winter is amazing!

Then a few things happened:

(1) I stopped being 8.

(2) I got a car and quickly discovered that it's no fun at all to drive on the white crisp stuff.

(3) I bought a house and quickly discovered that it's no fun at all to shovel the white crisp stuff.

(4) I fell and broke my ankle a few years back and now I'm TERRIFIED of the white crisp stuff.

It didn't take long for me to go from a winter lover to a full-on grinch who now walks across icy sidewalks with the gingerly gait of someone twice my age, absolutely convinced that I'm seconds away from faceplanting and re-snapping my ankle like a twig. Winter winds now make me feel like I can't breathe. Snowstorms bring closed schools but NEVER a closed workplace. I realized I can make myself cocoa any time for any reason. Adult winters are way less magical than 8-year-old winters.

I hate dealing with snowstorms, but it doesn't stop me from being fascinated by them. When I was a kid, there was a time when all I really wanted in life was to be a weatherman. Whenever storms roll through, I still fight the urge to run outside and be in the middle of it all. Could there possibly be any job cooler than keeping tabs on tornados and blizzards and floods?

But then I discovered that meteorology ends in -ology, and that means science, and science means math, and math is my nemesis. There's a whole lot of non-exciting number-crunching in weather forecasting. You need to know how air pressure and jetstreams operate. You need to be able to read sheets of raw data and figure out if the piles of numbers before you means it's going to rain or not. There's a whole lot more to meteorology than announcing temperatures, making a wise-crack, and throwing it to Chuck on the sports desk. Plus you have to wear a tie. Yuck.

Instead, I've become an armchair meteorology enthusiast. I don't ever want the burden of having to interpret data, but I love watching that burden fall on others. If there's storms a-brewin', you can usually count on me to have active radar maps and at least 3 different forecasts pulled up. So when good ol' Winter Storm Bruce (yep, that was its official name) came rolling through last week, I may have been at a DJ gig Saturday night, but I was glued to my phone and giving weather updates to anyone who cared (okay, pretty much no-one but me cared.)

What I learned from my amateur Bruce-watch is that, despite advanced technology and near-instant streaming communications, weather forecasting is still a high-tech guessing game. All the sources I deferred to agreed that SOMEPLACE was about to get a lot of snow, but no-one knew exactly where.

The biggest meteorology nerd I know is former QC weather-sage Terry Swails, who's now in Cedar Rapids but still runs a blog that keeps tabs on our area. Whenever there's even a whisper of snow for our area, Terry's job is to terrify us with a never-ending parade of charts, models, and forecasts that make even small storms sound like the apocalypse. Terry Swails is basically my spirit animal.

As I stood there spinning records and checking my phone every five minutes, Terry kept uploading various models of Winter Storm Bruce from NAM, HRRR, GFS, and other equally impessive initials. And just during that one gig, those models had QC snow predictions anywhere from 1.0" to 21.9", which is basically a range between "you won't even notice it" and "we'll find your body come spring." I tend to gravitate towards the worst option, so I spent the night watching people gyrate to Justin Bieber wondering if they would survive the next day's 22" snowmageddon.

So thank you, Terry and your wonderful world of meterological terror, for allowing me to experience 13.8" of snow while thinking, "Man, we really lucked out." Terrify us more often and maybe winter won't seem so bad.

On a completely different note, I'm just nerdy enough to have kept track, and I'm proud and amazed to point out this is my 700th weekly column in these pages, a milestone I never dreamed of achieving. I just wanted to give a hearty thanks to all the editors who gave me a shot, had my back, and let me be silly for an occupation. Thanks to my family and friends for inspiration, adventure, and laughs beyond measure. But mostly, I give thanks to the Quad Cities and all of you in them. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else, not even when there's 13.8" of fresh white crisp ankle-breaking nonsense on the ground.

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