Weather is a safe topic in social circles unless you are a meteorologist. The weather journalist has a no win gig. If he/she warns viewers of the upcoming tornado, hurricane, cyclone, blizzard,  we lament they are sensationalizing the news when the weather pattern changes direction/velocity/impact. Case in point Hurricane Irene. With an estimated 65 million people from the Carolinas to Cape Cod at risk of being in Irene’s projected path,  governments declared a state of emergency. Yet afterwards  journalists’ interviewed irate New Yorkers and tourists from abroad (all male) who cursed the evacuation warning and felt the stay indoors policy was over the top. I am sure the people in areas harder hit like North Carolina or Vermont were grateful for the warning.  If the meteorologist neglects to alert viewers to dangers lurking in the clouds, then he/she is at bigger fault.  Case in point, Hurricane Katrina.

I  know only one weatherman who is right all the time. My dad. He inherited the weather forecasting gene from my grandpa. As soon as inclement weather is forecast anywhere within a 500 mile vicinity, he turns on his storm buster box, a static sounding, battery-run weather radio. Then just like his dad used to do,  he’ll stand on the porch admiring the clouds and yelling at family, « Take cover. Now !»  This may be a guy thing.  One brother-in-law chases  tornadoes on bike in Minneapolis. The other one, who farms in Illinois, can read the clouds like the back of his hand.

Unless you grew up in the Midwest though, you can’t fathom how fast storms can roll across the plains. This summer my folks were at a picnic at the other side of the lake, when a guy there saw storm warning on his Blackberry. My parents hopped in the car and drove a  mile back to our cabin on the other side of the lake.

canoeing in front of torn up shoreline

canoeing in front of torn up shoreline

«Bat down the hatches !» my dad hollered from the driveway just as my French husband was heading out to sea on his toy boat, a catamaran.

The Frenchman had no sooner lowered the sails, when the winds hit. My son saw  the tarp over the motorboat go air born, raced down to the waterfront to fix it and came back up the hill yelling, « the sailboat is gone. »

Oops, there goes the brains of the family – the doc, the professor, the business exec –  out into the torrential rain on a rescue mission to catch the runaway sailboat. While they dashed into the churning black water in 60mph winds, I paced in front of the picture window thinking OMG,  « My family is going down! »

The storm lasted less than 10 minutes, yet wiped out a wide swath of forest 20 yards from us.  The sun came out as if nothing had happened, but the straight line wind peeled bark from elms, uprooted cedars on the shoreline and toppled thousand year old trees onto rooftops. Nearby areas looked like a bombed out war zone.

uprooted trees

uprooted trees

If a strong wind can wreak that much devastation in an isolated forest, imagine the fall out from a hurricane hitting the the urbanized, densely populated east coast. My thoughts and prayers go out to people caught in Hurricane Irene’s path.

We are so quick to blame the meteorologists for misreading storms and creating false alarms, yet with global warming,  the weather has gone crazy.  The adage- better safe than sorry – applies especially in storm season. If you question your local meteorologist’s predication, take my advice.  Have the man of the house to stand on the porch  and give you a play by play of the cloud action.