Stormin’ Norman wakes up at 4 a.m. As he predicted yesterday, a light snow is falling outside of his window. The snow is dusting the forest next to the weather observatory station that Norman works at and lives in for much of the year. Located on top of the largest mountain in the state of North Dakota, the observatory offers Norman a close view of cloud formations and weather changes. In a way, it feels like he is able to get the first glimpses of rain and snowfall before it hits busy urban streets.
Norman throws on long underwear, two layers of shirts, a sweater, wool pants, a heavy coat, gloves and a pair of goggles. It looks like he is ready for a voyage to Antarctica. Somebody alert the penguins. He heads up to the observatory’s tower to de-ice the instruments. Temperatures have dipped to 10 degrees Fahrenheit and there are 100 mph winds, making the act of climbing the ladder difficult. He risks frostbite if he takes off his gloves, but their poor grip on the metal makes him nervous. He’ll take the risk. He’d rather hang onto his fingers, thank you very much.
After de-icing the weather instruments, Norman hurries back to the observatory’s office to peel off his layers. Mornings are busy. He must analyze the weather map from the Weather Channel, look at the Doppler radar, print out the weather summary from the National Weather Service and update any temperature changes. Before Norman has time to finish his first cup of coffee, an hour has flown by. Apparently, he’s a very slow drinker. It’s time now to go up the tower to make his hourly observation and to check his instruments.
He sends his coded observation to the National Weather Service and drafts his daily weather report. The weather report is sent to the State Park desk, a nearby railway office and a local museum. Norman then writes a script for the early morning radio show he tapes for the National Public Radio. It is a combination of informative and funny, or at least he would like to think so. His listeners are kind of over the “rain” puns by now though.
Norman reads the script out loud a couple of times. It is important to deliver the local weather in a voice that sounds authoritative and professional. People all over the state are counting on his weather report. To liven up the script a little, Norman throws in some fun facts. “We haven’t experienced a snowfall like this since 1979! It’s snowing cats and dogs out there!”
The phone rings. Norman warily picks it up. When his busy schedule allows, he answers phone calls. Most of the calls are from people asking about the weather. The rest are telemarketers calling to persuade him to renew his subscription to Maxim that expired six years ago. He has a feeling this call is of the weather inquiry variety.
“Hey, can I talk to the weather guy from the radio?”
Norman sighs, “This is him.”
“Great job today. I really liked the part about the average snowfall for this time of year. Anyways, I want to go hiking this weekend. Do you think the weather is going to clear up?”
Norman tells the caller, whom he imagines is going to be hiking alone, that the temperatures are expected to rise to 40 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday, but that another cold front is predicted for the weekend. He hears the caller sigh. Oftentimes, delivering bad news is part of the job. At least he doesn’t have to break it to anyone they have a terminal disease; ruining someone’s hiking plans are about the worst of it.
Norman updates the observatory’s forecast pages on their website before he tapes three more radio shows. Faxes come in from other weather stations. Their data is recorded and filed. Time to de-ice the instruments and make another weather observation.
He notices a broken psychrometer and has to craft one himself out of a spare thermometer and a wick. The psychrometer measures the humidity using one wet thermometer and one dry one. He sends a quick email to the National Weather Service requesting more thermometers. He doesn’t like having to go all MacGyver if he doesn’t have to.
After the first technical glitch of the day, Norman prepares his “synoptic” observation. To prepare a report, Norman must check the atmospheric pressure, average wind speed, sky visibility, wind direction, dew point, temperature and precipitation. The report is like a long, complex code that can only be deciphered by a trained meteorologist.
It’s lunchtime, but Norman only has time for a quick snack. He needs to de-ice the equipment yet again and answer emails from other news organizations. Before long, it’s time to prepare his second “synoptic” observation. The wind has let up a little bit, so climbing the tower is no longer a circus routine.
By 4 p.m., Norman is off the clock. Another meteorologist clocks in for the nightshift. Norman takes a walk around the observatory. The sunset is spectacular today and the dying sun feels good on his back, but he notices a wind picking up from the east. Maybe he’ll step inside to inform the meteorologist. Or maybe he’ll just stay outside and enjoy the weather, leaving it up to that guy to detect it on his own. There is a reason they have all that big, fancy equipment, after all.