Violent weather brightens Mom's day

November 06, 1997|By Kevin Cowherd

AS REQUIRED by law of all senior citizens in this country, my mother is obsessed with the weather.

Apparently, it's her job to track every major storm heading toward the East Coast.

And once she's determined all pertinent data (intensity, direction, likelihood for destruction of property and loss of human life, etc.), it's her responsibility to call everyone she knows to warn them the storm is coming.

From her bunker in her kitchen, a steaming mug of tea in front of her and The Weather Channel blaring in the background, she speed-dials acquaintances, friends and relatives.

But mostly, she calls her three kids.

No, check that. Mostly, she calls me.

The calls come at all hours, day or night. After an initial exchange of pleasantries, she gets down to business.

"It's coming," she'll say, the urgency in her voice palpable.

"What's coming, Mom?"

"That storm over the Great Lakes. It veered south."

"Oh, Mom, I wouldn't worry too much about --"

"It looks like a bad one. Are your tires good?"

That's the beauty of my mother. You don't have to worry about the weather. She'll worry about it for you.

If there is no discernible atmospheric threat to the East Coast, she'll fill you in on weather-related disasters in other parts of the country.

Hurricanes off the coast of Louisiana. Tornadoes in Kansas. Floods in Ohio. Droughts in Texas. Mudslides in California.

As you can imagine, The Weather Channel is the central focus of her life. She knows the names of all the weathercasters. Marshall Seese, Mark Mancuso -- all of them are her pals, the anointed Keepers of the Information she so desperately seeks.

She loves their easy banter (Mancuso: "Marshall was feeling a bit sluggish today until he got his coffee") and their practiced use of weather lingo ("Here's a nice little track of moisture-free air over New England").

She loves their colorful maps: the Today's Highs map, the Precipitation Potential map, the National Radar map, the 24-Hour Temperature Change map, the Local Radar map, the Wintry Travel map, the Foggy Travel map.

She loves their bright, eye-catching charts: the Latest Observations chart, the Airport Report, the Current Temperature readings that give her a quick, thumbnail sketch of the national weather picture (37 degrees in Grand Rapids, 14 in Sioux Falls, 34 in Pittsburgh).

Then there is the high point of her day: the Local Update, with its breezy but all-important scrawl ("Showers will move into the region today") underlaid by a snazzy, bossa-nova-ish sound track.

She's also partial to the Weekend Outlook, which she begins tracking about 6 a.m. every Monday.

The question is: Why? Here is a woman who leaves her house about three times a year -- what does she care what the weekend weather is? It's not like it's going to wipe out her camping trip.

In the summer, my mother's days are spent worrying about violent thunderstorms that will wipe out her and her family.

But what she really lives to worry about are sleet and snow.

If anyone on The Weather Channel mentions sleet or snow, she immediately reaches for the phone.

It doesn't matter where the sleet and snow are.

The sleet and snow could be in Montana. They could be in Wisconsin. They could be in Oklahoma.

Her feeling is this: No matter where the sleet and snow are right now, it is just a matter of time before they head our way, ending all life as we know it.

She talks about sleet and snow headed toward the East Coast as if they were nuclear warheads.

And during the months when there are no sleet and snow to worry about, she worries about when the sleet and snow will return.

This is an absolutely true story:

I was talking to my mother over the phone this past June. Somehow the conversation touched on Thanksgiving, at which point I mentioned that my wife and I and the kids were planning to visit her for the holiday.

"Not if there's sleet or snow," she said. "I don't want you traveling."

Outside the window of my home, the temperature on the thermometer read 96 degrees.

My lawn was so brown and rutted from the blazing sun it looked like an abandoned airstrip in Panama.

And my mother was worrying about sleet and snow.

Five months early.

It was a beautiful moment.

Pub Date: 11/06/97

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