Another Lifetime Ago

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in the weather. Somewhere around junior high, I decided that I wanted to go to college for meteorology.

I remember a family trip to Kasota, MN (in southern MN) … Mom, Dad, sister, Grandma, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I don’t remember exactly when this was, but it had to have been when I was in either 6th or 7th grade. We had a caravan headed down there. I don’t remember a lot about that trip other than the actual trip down there. I’m not sure where the weather started, but it was interesting for the majority of the trip. We stopped at a gas station or truck stop in Sauk Centre, and I remember pouring rain and lightning that seemed to almost hit us. It seemed like in every little town we went through, we heard the tornado sirens going off as we left town. We made another pit stop in Sleepy Eye, MN. I stayed in the car while everyone else went in. I heard them say on the radio that there was a tornado headed toward town. And sure enough, as we were leaving, we heard the sirens go off. It was like the storms were chasing us all the way there. We managed to stay ahead of the bad stuff, thankfully.

I think that was where my love of severe weather was born.

I went to college at the University of North Dakota (Go Sioux!!!) for meteorology. I was interested in the research side of things. I did work study (with my advisor). We were looking into the radar coverage in NW North Dakota, and how forecasting info might be affected if the Williston NWS office was closed. I looked at a lot of radar data.

Unfortunately, that was about as involved as I got while I was there. I did go to meetings of the student AMS (American Meteorological Society). Looking back now, I wish I had tried to get involved at RWIS (Regional Weather Information Center), which was right on campus. Maybe if I had, things would have turned out differently.

In the summer of ’97 (and again in ’98), I was an intern on a weather modification product in western ND. I really enjoyed that. We had our own radar on site, and we used it to guide airplanes around thunderstorms so they could seed it to either make it rain more or to lessen the size (and damage) of hail. I even got to go up in one of the planes once while they were on a mission. Some might think it’s crazy to fly a little 4-6 seater airplane around a thunderstorm, but I loved being in that plane. Yeah, we did get caught in a downdraft at one point and dropped like 500 ft in a matter of a few seconds … but I would have gone up again, if I could have.

I graduated with a BS in Meteorological Studies in ’98. I remember wanting to go to grad school at the University of Oklahoma. I honestly don’t remember what changed my mind.

I ended up getting a job with the company who ran that weather modification project. I worked there for 4½ years. But I was little more than a glorified office assistant. I was in charge of gathering the data from the various field projects, and putting reports together. But anyone could have done that. I did get to go to a project site in Oklahoma City for a week at one point. But, wouldn’t you know it (with my luck), there wasn’t a drop of rain the entire time I was there.

When I got laid off from that job at the end of 2003, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I looked into getting a weather related job, but with my lack of experience, I was all but screwed. I ended up getting a job as a web programmer in June 2004. And that other life was history.

I am still working as a web programmer. And don’t get me wrong … I love what I do (despite the tight deadlines as of late). But there is still a part of me that longs to be doing something related to the weather. When storms come around, I am taken back to that family trip to Kasota. Only this time, I want to be chasing the storms.

I found out early last week that Reed Timmer was going to be in Hillsboro to give a talk today. If you don’t know who Reed is, he’s a storm chaser. He’s on the show Storm Chasers on the Discovery Channel.

I almost didn’t go. I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to go with me, and I didn’t want to go by myself. But I knew (with my history) that if I didn’t go, I would never forgive myself. So … I sucked it up and went … by myself. And I’m glad I did.

Reed & Joel (one of his partners) were supposed to be coming. It turned out that Joel didn’t end up coming. It would have been nice to meet Joel too, but oh well. When Reed got there, they drove (he wasn’t the one driving though) the Dominator into the gym where the event was being held. Very cool. I didn’t have to go out in the cold to check the thing out.

I walked around the Dominator a little and took some pictures of it. There were too many people around it to get as close of a look as I wanted. Then I jumped in line to get my pic taken with Reed. I didn’t have anything for him to autograph, but I’d rather than a picture than a scribbled name on a piece of paper. I hate how I look, but at least I have proof that I met him. 😀

Here are some of the pics I snapped. I didn’t take a whole lot of pics. My camera really didn’t like the lighting in the gym. I did take a few videos of Reed’s presentation. I probably won’t put ’em up anywhere though.

During his presentation, he showed video clips from some of his chases. Some footage I had seen on the show, and some was raw footage that wasn’t on the show. Watching those video clips renewed my desire for the weather … for severe storms. I am so tired of winter … of all of this damn snow. I long for a good lightning show … for some house rattling crashes of thunder … to watch the storm clouds roll in.

Reed said that he has a feeling that they’ll be doing a lot of chasing in the northern plains this year, based on the fact that it is a La Niña year. You have no idea what I would give to go chasing with him … whether in the Dominator or not. To just go chasing at all. Obviously, I can’t go chasing by myself. I’d end up in the ditch because I’d be watching the weather rather than the road. And I don’t know anyone who would want to go chasing with me … and be the one driving. If I happen to see the Dominator driving through town, I just might find myself following them. But not too close. I don’t think my little Honda would survive a tornado.

An unforeseen side effect of going to the talk is that it made me question where I am today. I went to school for 4 years … spent around $10,000 to get a degree in meteorology. And I’m working as a web programmer (and I’ve never had a single class in the field).

It really is crazy how where you are isn’t where you thought you’d be. But even though I’m not a meteorologist like I thought I would be, the desire is still there. I still get excited when I hear thunder, when I smell rain. I didn’t fail. I just found something else that fit me better for a career. I didn’t lose the desire that I had back in junior high. It’s still there … in my heart.


  1. From someone who is passionate about the weather (read: geek) thanks for posting the pics of the Dominator. As someone who suffers from the occasional case of “would have, could have, should have” and the one thing I’ve learned is: do it. What about setting up a website and some gear to monitor local weather in your area? You, unlike many of us, can actually understand the gear and it’s reporting…just a thought. Don’t let your passion fade too far away.

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