10 July 2018

Chasing Storms, And History

When I was a student, one of my classmates said he wanted to become an agricultural metorologist.  Naturally, being a city girl (well, guy in those days), I didn't know such a job existed.  So he furthered my education.

Anyway, he once said only half-jokingly that his studies and an internship in a weather station actually made him a worse forecaster.  Growing up on a farm, he said, you read almanacs and learn how to read the sky, the wind and other parts of your surroundings.  Studying meteorology, he said, "takes you away from that" because "it's all about technology" which, he claimed, "destroy your intuition and common sense."

William Minor probably would agree with him.  He left a 30-year career as a news reporter for the Miami Herald and moved to Pennsylvania, where he lives a plain and simple life among the Amish.  But unlike the Amish, he spends a lot of time away from home, chasing storms--or, more precisely, weather.  On his bicycle.

William Minor, center, with biologist Jan Goodson and NC State College intern Austin Mueller.

Since he is a volunteer firefighter (at age 75!) in his new home, he also uses his work to help raise awareness of volunteer fire departments, which he says are vital to the fabric of America.  Wherever he goes, he checks with a state trooper or other law enforcement official to help him find a local fire station and make contact with its chief.  Once he finds them, he asks whether he can stay.  They usually oblige him but, as he says, he promises to keep out of the way and spends time helping to clean them and with other tasks.  

In away, those two pursuits--weather and fire departments--aren't so disparate.  Going around the country by bicycle helps Minor to see them close up and document how they are changing--and how they, in turn, can change the country.

Wherever he goes on his bicycle, he tows a trailer full of equipment that he uses to take soil samples, record cloud patterns and gather other data.  He emphasizes that he is not a meteorologist; rather, he is a researcher, just as he was when he was writing about Watergate or his travels with Jacques Cousteau.  

He does, however, offer some warnings.  "The earth is in for a major weather cycle," he declares, and all of it--at least on the East Coast of North America--has Hurricane Matthew as its precursor.  "We fail because we don't pay attention to history," he warns.

He believes that he is recording that history from his on-the-ground data.  We had better weather forecasting forty years ago, he explains, "when there were only two weather satellites.  Now there are 19-plus" but people don't pay attention to what's going on around them and notice the patterns, he says.

Hmm...I wonder what that old classmate of mine is up to.  If he's a meteorologist, agricultural or otherwise, perhaps he should get on a bicycle and follow William Minor.  The firefighters would probably welcome him.

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