Weather Spotting

Hot. Cold. Hot. Cold. Hot. Cold. Hot.

‘Tis the season for unsettled weather, which always seems to be the case in New England. As the saying goes, if you don’t like the weather here, wait a few minutes.

My neighbors walk their dogs and tend their lawns in shorts, tee-shirts and flip-flops, but I’m still doing my thing with more layers than I’d like—long pants, a sweater or sweatshirt over a lighter top, my indispensable wrist warmers, socks and shoes.

I took the bold step of bringing my winter sweaters to the dry cleaners only last week, but missed them a few days later when we were deluged with cold rains that triggered my Raynaud’s and caused a messy leak in our basement. Why, I wondered, couldn’t the rain have fallen over Colorado’s burning Black Forest, where it was really needed?

Of course, you can’t control the weather any more than you can control a chronic disease with a mind of its own. The only thing you can control is the way you respond.

Managing my health takes much vigilance, many doctor’s appointments, good nutrition, regular exercise, taking all of my meds every day, tending my finger ulcers to ward off infection, getting as much of a good night’s sleep as I can, recognizing and managing stress triggers, appreciating love from family and friends, common sense, pro-active problem-solving and doing my best to stay positive. That’s the short list.

Dealing with the weather is a different beast. It’s not just about following forecasts so I know how to dress and keep warm. It’s also about trying to understand and not get overwhelmed by the strange shifts and extreme weather patterns we’re all experiencing. Fatal floods in Europe, record-breaking forest fires in the Rockies, the Oklahoma City tornado, last fall’s Superstorm Sandy—not a week goes by when there isn’t another extreme weather event somewhere around the globe. Lately I’ve been looking at the sky and feeling like it doesn’t make sense any more.

Mark Twain (or perhaps one of his contemporaries) famously said, “Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” Well, I decided last week to do a little something. A bit of a weather geek to begin with, I drove an hour-and-a-half to Manchester, N.H., one evening to attend a three hour training as a National Weather Service (NWS) volunteer weather spotter.

Weather spotters fill in the observations that radar can’t pick up closer to the ground—like the size of hail or the siting of a funnel cloud, where there’s flooding or whether winds are strong enough to topple healthy trees. I can now explain how tornadoes form, what kinds of thunderstorms are the most dangerous and their warning signs. I have an official weather spotter ID and the number to call for our NWS bureau in Taunton, Mass., to report on signs of serve weather.

It’s my own small way of responding to climate change. If I can help to fill in the blanks about approaching storms, then maybe I’ll enable someone to get out of harm’s path.

It also gives me some sense of control, albeit illusory. At least I have a better understanding of what clouds signify and why hail falls and when to run to the basement.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to worry about any of this—tornadoes that drop out of the sky and destroy elementary schools or diseases that appear out of nowhere and ravage our bodies. But the world is far from perfect. It just is. All we can control is our own response. This is mine.

Photo Credit: Nicholas_T via Compfight cc

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at


  1. Pat Bizzell says:

    You are a trained Weather Spotter? That is way cool!!!! Being from the Midwest, I am a devoted untrained weather spotter. Whenever I talk to my sister, even though she now lives in Florida, the very first thing we always talk about is the weather there and here. I think it would be really fun to get the formal training.

    I am lucky that I don’t have to be as concerned about the summer weather as you do, Ev. I am just trying to grow a little vegetable garden and hoping that the sun shines. I can put water on it if there’s no rain, but I can’t put sun on it if there’s no sun. You and I both would probably prefer nothing but warm sunshine!

    • Thanks! The training was fascinating. Now I have to report sitings of hail, heavy rains, et al, and, God forbid, a funnel cloud if I see one. Hopefully not! But I do enjoy understanding more about the different kinds of clouds and storm systems. And yes, warm sunshine would be lovely.

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