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Is There a Human Aspect to the Weather?

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By Julia LeStage, Founder and CEO, Weathermob, Inc.

The recent tragic deaths from the tornadoes in Oklahoma made me pause, again, and think about why the weather is so captivating to human beings. Why we just can’t we get enough of it, even when the weather is so inhuman, often inhumane—and sometimes deadly?

In 2013, despite great advances in technology, we still cannot predict the weather with enough certainty. Even professionals such at 30-year veteran storm chaser, Tim Samaras, his son, Paul and meteorologist, Carl Young, could not predict that a tornado would jag the wrong way – their way – and take their lives.

According to the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Americans check the weather 3.8 times a day. Are we so compelled by weather because it is one of the few things left in our lives that we cannot control?

Perhaps we’re fascinated by weather because of the very fact that it does not submit to us. The weather cannot be persuaded. The weather’s own uncertainty in the face of the increasing pace of climate change, should make us even more worried about its will and its might.

The weather is culturally, geographically, politically, religiously and linguistically impartial. How many things that affect us all every day are impartial? The impossibility of the controlling the weather is an ultimate challenge, an infinite frontier. The appeal of this alone is enough for some people. It is a problem that can never be solved. The allure is in the chase.

Hauntingly, Tim Samaras explained that his initial interest in tornadoes was to, “…witness the incredible beauty of what Mother Nature had created.” He also confessed that at times he had “mixed feelings” about chasing storms because of their destructive and life-changing power. The deaths of high profile and seasoned scientists in an extreme storm remind us that no one can capture or tame the weather.

The practice of storm chasing and meteorology and of weather-casters standing in a studio telling us the day’s forecast is a relatively new way of telling the weather story. Talking about the weather, however, is indisputably primeval. Since time began, human beings – indeed, all beings – have had a profound and spiritual relationship with the weather.

It connects us throughout time and across the world. We notice, enjoy and fear the same conditions that the ancient Egyptians, Vikings and Incas did – and that our contemporaries in countries we will never visit do.

We tell our weather story – chase storms, listen to the weathermen, bring an umbrella, talk about it in the Starbucks line, chat with our Mothers, and look up and out – to try and impose some kind order. In this human attempt to impose order there is some kind of comfort and healing; it is part of human nature. For professionals there is data that might help people be safer in the future.

I am guilty of this, of trying to bring human order. I write about and report on the weather every day. I run a crowd-sourced weather media company called Weathermob. I am not a meteorologist. Then again, neither is Al Roker. He and I are just people, like millions (perhaps billions) who are weather keen. Al and I just happened to be paid for publicly responding, reacting, and describing this force we cannot control.

Weathermob was created to help give ordinary people a place to record and share what they see in the sky and feel in the air and in their hearts. It is tool to contribute to our need for order and storytelling around the weather. We use social media tools to create real-time weather data. Weathermob is a network of weather reporting from the ground up, a human weather army.

We believe that everyone can be a weatherperson and should be, which is why our organization aims to harness the “understanding on the ground” from the people who are in the weather. Everyone has to right to talk about the weather. Weathermob reporters in your local area and all over the world share real-time weather, mood and weather-triggered activity. We do not claim to outsmart the weather, but we are recording it to learn, share, shine, connect and – sometimes – be safer.

The YouTube videos of Tim Samaras facing what we now know to be his killer made me feel profoundly sad and human. He – and we – could not stop the tornado. We can only change how we react to weather, how we adjust and refine our response to it.

Samaras knew, perhaps embraced, the inherent risks of confronting a tornado. He died doing what he loved. His life’s work involved creating tools to increase our understanding of tornadoes, of their devastating power and beauty, and how to be safer in their midst.

We at Weathermob salute Tim Samaras, his son, Paul, and Carl Young and re-commit to our mission to enhance our real-time responses to all weather and to tell the human weather story, to give more relevant, beautiful and safer weather information to each other every day.

In the malevolent eye of a charging tornado, Tim Samaras found beauty and a life well lived. This stark and painful dichotomy is strangely healing, like looking up, again. At the sky.

Photo via U.S. Air Force

Message in a Bottle Makes Its Way to Mom Two Years After Her Daughter’s Death

Superstorm Message in a BottleStories like this are so amazing and unlikely it seems strange we’d ever have any need for fiction.

Sidonie Fery was 10 years old when she wrote a brief note to her mother, sealed it in a green bottle, and cast it into the ocean about an hour east of Manhattan. That was over ten years ago.

Three years ago, at age 18, Sidonie fell to her death at her boarding school in Switzerland, leaving her family shocked and distraught. But the story doesn’t end there. And this is the part where we start to wonder if there really is a higher power looking out for us…

We all know the damage wrought by Superstorm Sandy last fall: The second costliest hurricane in U.S. history, at least 286 people killed across seven countries. It was a horrible event none of us would want to relive, and it’s hard to imagine anything remotely positive could have come out it. But if it hadn’t been for the storm, a beach clean-up worker would have never come across Sidonie’s forgotten message amid piles of garbage washed to shore.

And so the bottle finally made it to Mimi Fery, Sidonie’s grieving mother, two years after her daughter’s death and over a decade after the day it was written. The message inside quoted a line from Sidonie’s favorite film, “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”: “Be excellent to yourself, dude.”

The girl most likely had no inkling that these words would essentially constitute her last communication to the world ever. And that makes the sentiment that much more poignant. It would be difficult and perhaps unsettling to go around thinking every day could be our last, every word our final utterance, every hug our last sensation. But Sidonie’s story makes this possibility seem all the more real, and thus our time here all the more precious. And we have to trust that everything, somehow, will be alright in the end.

Are you inspired by Sidonie’s story? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!

 

Photo credit: AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

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