Rain or shine, I’m crazy about the weather

foggy sunrise
Foggy morning. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ll admit it. I’m crazy about the weather.

Rain or shine, stormy or clear, I love to watch the weather. From foggy sunrises to golden sunsets and any and all weather conditions in between, I’m on it like a tornado to a trailer park.

Yep. I’m stuck on the weather. I’ve always been fascinated by the variety of weather northeast Ohio has to offer spring, summer, fall and winter. I’m cool, however, with never having lived in Lake Erie’s snow belt.

My captivation with the climatological elements goes way back. When I was a kid and a thunderstorm roared I ran to the window, not the closet. The lightning and hail fascinated me the most.

I got a reality check, however, when I thought a 10-year old could outrun a thunderstorm for home. I couldn’t.

From then on, I took better notice of the weather and gave her all the respect she required. I took college classes that taught me much about climate and the weather.

Later, when I became a volunteer firefighter, I trained to be a severe weather observer. I’ve kept my spotter certification current.

One of the first things I do each morning is review the weather forecast. If severe weather is a possibility, I check the radar frequently for rapidly growing storms. For me, safety is a priority.

I remember the first tornado I ever saw. I was a skinny preteen. My father was driving the family car, and I spotted this white, spinning funnel cloud. I warned Dad, but he ignored me and drove right under it. When he heard the whirling noise and saw it pass overhead, Dad sheepishly said, “I guess you were right.”

With that, my amateur weather-watching career was born. When it rains, I record how much. When it snows, I measure the inches that fell. When it hails, I report the size and amount to the weather officials. The same goes for any wind-related damage.

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There’s a purpose to my weather mania. I want others to be alerted so they too can be safe.

I’m not alone. Thousands of severe weather spotter volunteers are on call across the country. When the weather turns nasty, our adrenaline gets pumping.

Take the other day for example. As a severe thunderstorm moved over the county, weather radar indicated rotation in the storm.

Just as the National Weather Service issued the tornado warning, the power went out at our house. I scampered to be sure everything was secure, gathered my rain gear and camera, and out into the storm I went.

I hadn’t ventured down the road very far until I encountered flash flooding in several locations. I reported the flooding and kept an eye on the sky as best I could as I drove.

I followed the storm through torrential, swirling rain for 15 miles. I finally reached the back of the storm just as it exited into the next county. I relayed that no funnel was seen to the weather service and headed toward home, only to encounter even more flash flooding.

With muddy, debris-laden, bumper high water running rapidly across roadways, drivers still chose to risk it. Even a horse and buggy slogged through the floodwaters. The horse’s high leg kicks indicated that the horse was none too happy.

I’ve always said that if I believed in reincarnation, which I don’t, I probably would come back as either a chiropractor or a meteorologist. Given my penchant for the weather, you can probably guess which one I’d pick.

summer sunset, Holmes Co. OH
Brilliant sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Spring’s arrival doesn’t guarantee spring weather

Amish buggy, first day of spring
First day of Spring 2014. © Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

Spring has arrived, finally. Didn’t we say the same thing last year at this time?

A year ago after a long, cold, snowy winter, we looked forward to spring’s promise. It was long in coming.

Well, here we are a year later, virtually in the same situation. We’ve endured an even more brutal winter with record-breaking extreme temperatures, dangerous wind chills, and snowstorm after snowstorm.

East of the Mississippi River, it was a winter of biblical proportions. Where three or more gathered, complaints, exasperations, and unmentionable utterances about the lousy weather could be heard far and wide, even in church.

Amish farm, early spring
Waiting on spring. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Schools closed or delayed opening for a multitude of reasons a multitude of times. Local businesses suffered financially.

Even when it wasn’t snowing, the long string of gray days coupled with the dark, frigid ones weighed heavy on people’s spirits. It got so bad that rumors circulated in the statehouse that the all-knowing and all-seeing state legislature was ready to adopt a new motto for Ohio. “I can’t take it anymore” had its second committee reading when Old Man Winter’s grip finally loosened.

Thanks to the second consecutive polar vortex, snow, ice, cold and stinging winds affected folks not used to such stuff. Winter reached far into the southeastern United States.

Snowbirds got their feathers frosted a time or two. Wind chill advisories reached all the way to the southern tip of Florida. Even Key West wasn’t spared.

Amish farmer, plowing
Plowing the snow. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
With the air temperature in the 40s and the winds blowing off of the ocean at gale force, it was cold. Floridians aren’t asking for or expecting any sympathy cards, however.

It is prudent to focus on the passing of the vernal equinox and hope upon hope that the spring weather of 2014 will not repeat this year. My farmer friends need no reminder.

Spring a year ago lasted as long as the frigid winter had. Fields were unapproachable, and crops couldn’t be planted on schedule, not even by horse drawn machinery.

The first cutting of hay for some farmers didn’t happen until early June. I think that was when the last of the snowplow glacial piles finally melted. That’s how cold and wet April and May were a year ago.

Keep calm sign
© Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Let’s hope that there is no replication of that weather pattern this year. Everywhere this winter’s weather pounded, good people are ready for a regular, normal springtime. Nobody can blame them.

It’s nice to see sunrises and sunsets straight east and west morning and evening. I’ll enjoy their slow inch north, and hope that clouds, precipitation, and cold fronts don’t weaken the sun’s warming influence.

Spring will arrive. Forsythias and azaleas have already reached their peak where frost and ice briefly ruled in the south. Crocuses have already bloomed in southern Ohio. Our turn will come.

crocuses
Crocuses. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
I’ll keep my excitement subdued when the buttery daffodils trumpet their glory. I have too many memories of enjoying their sunny spirit one day, and watching them droop from the weight of heavy, wet snow the next.

I hope that doesn’t happen again this year. I also hope that spring behaves itself and brings us the weather we should get.

I realize that severe thunderstorms, hail, lightning, tornadoes, frost and flooding are all part of that package. I also know that daylight will linger longer, and temperatures will gradually warm to near normal.

To get there, however, we’ll simply have to be patient and hope that fairer weather will prevail.

rural sunrise, foggy sunrise
Foggy sunrise. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Any kind of weather suits me just fine

snowy woods, winter woods
Snowy woods. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

I can’t exactly tell you when the weather bug hit me. All I know is that the weather just fascinates me.

Maybe it started when I was a youngster. A summer thunderstorm would force the neighborhood gang of kids onto our front porch. Rained out of our outdoor mischief, we passed the time oohing and ahhing at the vivid streaks of lightning dancing across the sky.

College invigorated my interests all the more. Geography courses answered questions I didn’t even know to ask. My weather appetite intensified.

After I had graduated, I took a teaching position at Killbuck Elementary School and joined the volunteer fire department after moving to the village in the valley. When I learned that the National Weather Service depended on first responders as severe weather spotters, I was elated. I took the required course to become a trained spotter. Doing so enabled me to combine two interests into one, firefighting and weather.

fall clouds, dappled clouds, dappled sky, cumulus clouds
Dappled sky. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Both my school days and my volunteer firefighting days ended years ago. However, my obsession with the weather continues.

I keep an eye on weather forecasts for good reasons. The lives of others might depend on it. In today’s electronically connected world, I get the word out about potential severe weather through posts on social media just in case a few people don’t hear about the impending storm.

I likely won’t ever outgrow the desire to watch the weather. When the National Weather Service posts a storm watch near where I happen to be, I go into proactive mode watching various radar and severe weather pages on the Internet.

Thanks to technology, a spotter’s approach to watching for severe weather has significantly changed over the decades. Instead of going to the highest hilltop with the best vantage point and viewing from a vehicle, I can stay in the safety of my home. There I track the storm on my computer and by watching out the windows for rotating clouds, hail, and any flooding I can see.

cumulonimbus clouds, storm clouds, cloud reflections
Cloud reflections. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
It’s a little different story in the winter. Spotters help out the National Weather Service by measuring the snow the old-fashioned way, using a ruler. Of course, the measurement has to follow protocol. Spotters measure snow depths that accumulate on a board elevated above the ground.

Morning and evening, the local weather service office receives reports of new snow totals from dozens of snow spotters across the coverage areas. Doing so helps the professionals in evaluating their forecasts and even in issuing weather advisories. After all, frozen precipitation is the hardest type for career meteorologists to predict accurately.

Like many of the other community activities I’ve done in my life, being a weather spotter is a voluntary position. Knowing I am only one of many who help the weather service get the weather word out to citizens is all the pay I need.

Between tornadoes, blizzards, flash floods, damaging straight-line winds, and lightning strikes, I’ve seen a lot of wild weather in my lifetime. It may sound a little strange to say this, but I enjoy reporting what I find.

I suppose I do it both for the thrill and the necessity to relay what I have observed. Helping the official weather forecasters, even in some small ways, gives me great satisfaction.

I guess I’m just a weather geek at heart. I’ll gladly wear that badge of honor as I forge into the next snowdrift.

wheat shocks, striaght line wiind damage
Wheat shocks toppled by straight line winds from a severe thunderstorm. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

The good, bad and ugly of Super Storm Sandy

Sandy clouds by Bruce Stambaugh
The last clouds of the remnants of Super Storm Sandy left Holmes County, Ohio late afternoon on Nov. 1.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m both a news and weather junky. When the weather is the news, I’m fixated. So it was with Hurricane Sandy.

From the time the hurricane entered the Caribbean until it finally dissipated in Canada many days later, I focused on news of what came to be known as Super Storm Sandy. Between her alpha and omega, Sandy stormed up the east coast. Once she turned inland, the destruction intensified.

Initially the media focused on a breaking story of a severely damaged construction crane in New York City. I watched in awe as video showed hurricane force winds bending the towering, monster crane like it were a twig. The damaged section dangled precariously several stories above a busy street while police and firefighters evacuated the area. News cameras zoomed in on the scene for the entire world to see. Much more serious incidents were occurring unknowingly far out of the cameras’ lens.

Sandy was one massive storm, just as predicted by the professional severe storm forecasters. Perhaps that is one positive to take away from this major weather event. Knowing that weather scientists were able to project accurately the intensity and path of the storm may convince people to take better precautions when future storm warnings are issued.

A huge geographic swath impacting millions of people got hammered. Sandy merged with an interior cold front, creating a hybrid storm with fierce winds, torrential rains, flooding, storm surges and even heavy snow in the Appalachian Mountains.

Sandy’s aftermath told an ugly, unfortunate story. Major metropolitan areas, including New York City, were particularly hit hard. As Sandy moved inland, the consequential events unfolded, and the media coverage began to expand.

Beach by Bruce Stambaugh

Sandy’s winds, rains and high tide storm surges had obliterated once pristine places and popular vacation spots. Those who failed to heed the warnings either were stranded or rescued. Unfortunately others paid with their lives. Beaches where sun worshippers once lounged and children romped were simply gone. Beachfront homes and businesses disappeared.

Millions of people were without electricity, potable water, food, transportation and heat. Schools were closed. Businesses shut. Ruptured gas lines burst into flames, destroying entire blocks of homes. It was a mess to say the least.

The high winds and heavy rains we experienced here were minor compared to most affected communities. In fact, we were happy for the quenching rains.

Emotions and responses to the super storm became paradoxical. While snow resorts in West Virginia opened earlier than ever, several storm-related deaths occurred from auto crashes on slippery roads.

Birds seldom seen in Ohio were blown into the Buckeye State ahead of the intense storm. Birders here were ecstatic. All the while thousands upon thousands of people in northern Ohio were without power.

As the reality of the breadth and depth of the storm became known, the media ranged far and wide to cover the catastrophe. Both heart-warming and heart-wrenching stories of people helping people developed. The damaged crane seemed inconsequential compared to other ongoing calamities and heroic acts of goodwill.

Jessica by Bruce Stambaugh
Jessica Stambaugh
As massive and destructive as Sandy was, it seemed to affect each of us personally. That was certainly true for my family and me. A niece, Jessica, lives in Manhattan, and was among the throngs without power and heat for days.

I never did hear what happened to that dangling crane. I just know that Jessica was safe. Unfortunately, scores of others couldn’t say that about their loved ones.

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

Response to disaster defines community

Buggy charm by Bruce Stambaugh
A horse and buggy rolled by some snapped off trees north of Charm, Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

If anyone ever wanted a snapshot of what defines this community, the beehive of activity in the aftermath of the storm that recently hit the Charm, Ohio area would perfectly frame that picture.

No sooner had the trees plummeted onto homes, buildings and roadways, than residents were out and about checking on one another. With the good fortune of finding no injuries, the cleanup began in earnest.

Helping hands by Bruce Stambaugh
Neighbors pitched in immediately to help clean up the debris left by the severe thunderstorm.

Four-wheelers, tractors, Bobcats, track hoes, and even monster skid loaders ran up and down skinny township roads. Their drivers and passengers stopped to assist wherever help was needed.

A man driving through the area just happened to have his chain saw in his pickup. With trees in his way, he did the logical thing. He cranked up his chain saw and began cutting. Drivers of a trio of semitrailers lined up behind him exited their cabs and joined in. He sawed. They pulled the limbs aside.

That proactive scenario was repeated a multitude of times throughout the Charm area. The volunteers weren’t asked to do this important work. They simply did so because it needed to be done, and they had the tools and the talent to do it. More than that, the desire to assist their neighbors in need drove them into action.

This was no time to feel sorry for yourself. Those receiving the aid worked side-by-side with the volunteers.

The response to this latest calamity in Holmes County was immediate and spontaneous, as it always seems to be no matter where the misfortune happens. Whether it’s a fire, devastating illness, serious flood or a severe thunderstorm, citizens come to the aid of others. Time and again people automatically go above and beyond the call of duty.

Barn destroyed by Bruce Stambaugh
My friends' barn roof was ripped off by the microburst.

My wife and I got caught up in the flurry of activity in Charm. We went to check on the property of friends who live near Charm but were on vacation. The 80 mph microburst winds ripped the roof off their small barn and scattered anything not nailed down for hundreds of yards.

What we witnessed as we made our way to and from the farmstead was truly amazing, though not unexpected. In disasters like this, citizens in Holmes County by and large do the right thing. No police supervision was needed.

Road crews by Bruce Stambaugh
Residents, neighbors and road crews pitched in to clear roadways.

An hour and a half after the storm, roadways had been cleared of giant trees and other debris strewn by the incredible hurricane-force, straight-line winds. Houses, too, were already being repaired.

Everywhere we went people and machines were working to clean up the mess. They didn’t call the fire department. They didn’t wait on road crews, though at least one township had its personnel out clearing roads.

People saw the needs, and their inherent work ethic simply kicked in. The cleanup was on. Strangers helped strangers. Friends helped friends. It was a marvelous operation to observe and be a part of.

House damage by Bruce Stambaugh
This house sustained heavy damage from the large pines blown onto it.

One particular setting ideally modeled both the community spirit and gracious gratitude. Hands that had cut up a large severed pine gathered around a picnic table. Grateful hands placed offerings of nourishing food for the thoughtful helpers. Together they shared a simple meal. Kindness is contagious.

By any definition, that is how a community is supposed to work and commune. That scene has been duplicated many times in the past, and most likely will be again in any future adversity that hits our rural haven.