Ask Weather Dan: The defining weather events of my childhood
Have you ever wondered how Weather Dan became, well, Weather Dan? Read on to find out he transformed from a cartoon-loving little boy from King William to the weather forecasting juggernaut that he is today.
Just about every meteorologist I know has a story about the reason they got into weather. With some people it’s a hurricane, others a snowstorm, and tornadoes for others. For me, it’s a mishmash of events that became more and more vivid in my memory as I grew older.
When I was in preschool, my family lived in King William County near the Hanover county line. My school was in a little white church in Doswell; I don’t remember the name of the school at all. Each week we would take turns talking about the day’s weather. We didn’t have model forecasts or constant pressure surface charts, just assorted pictures of clouds, the sun, rain, etc. pinned to a bulletin board. Most days, I was more obsessed with the classroom Sit-n-Spin and the idea of driving a train when I grew up, but I always got excited when I would walk into the classroom and see my name posted under “Weather.” I loved talking about sunny days, and rainy days — even partly cloudy days — to my seemingly disinterested classmates.
Around that same time, I remember seeing hail for the first time. I was seeking refuge in my bedroom from the thunderstorm outside, playing with LEGO bricks, when my mother called me over to the window. (In retrospect, this probably wasn’t the wisest idea.) Outside, pea- and dime-sized balls of ice were bouncing off the front steps and across the grass. I stood, watching, amazed at the ice falling from the sky, while my mother explained what I was seeing.
I also got my first exposure to flooding around this time. I don’t recall the exact date, other than it being a Saturday morning in the fall. We were still living in King William, and I remember telling my mom about the helicopter footage from NBC12 (which was still WWBT at the time) that showed the James River encroaching on riverside structures, including, I believe, some fuel tanks. More important than the fact it was weather, though, is that it was interrupting my cartoons! Nothing worse than interrupting my Smurfs. (I know there’s not much to go off of here, but if anyone remembers this event, I’d love more information about it.)
After my parents separated and each remarried to new partners, my sister and I were uprooted as we all moved to southwest Virginia. Along with the move came a new luxury for us: cable television. On nights I couldn’t sleep, I wandered down to the living room to see what was TV. Invariably, I would wind up watching The Weather Channel, learning about weather events transpiring across the country and the world. I still have a fondness for Jim Cantore and the Local on the 8s. The Weather Channel now isn’t what The Weather Channel was then, but that’s a rant for another day.
We moved in 1989, and our first September there saw the arrival of one of the strongest hurricanes on record: Hurricane Hugo. Hugo had already battered the Carolinas as it made landfall near Charleston, and weakened only to a strong Tropical Storm by the time the center reached far western Virginia. I awoke that morning to loud winds rattling the large hemlock and dogwood trees near my bedroom window. We lost power around 9 that morning. It rained for most of the morning, we lost several trees, and I got a day out of school.
Being in southwest Virginia, we got a fair number of winter storms during my time growing up there. Primary among those was the March 1993 “Superstorm” and the January 1996 blizzard. During my entire childhood, I loved to run outside with a ruler or yardstick to measure exactly how much snow we got. We got about two feet of snow from both storms, which was especially great because about half our property was on a hillside and made for the best sledding in the neighborhood.
In high school, flooding from the remnants of several hurricanes in the late 90s washed out the riverbanks and roads of nearby streams. Fran (1996) and Floyd (1999) made a beeline for southwest Virginia and dropped copious amounts of precipitation; Floyd, in particular, dropped a foot of rain in about 24 hours. I remember taking drives after both storms and finding washed-out riverbanks and missing asphalt where roads used to be. This was particularly unnerving along the windy, two-lane mountain roads that are prevalent in the area.
I never fully took advantage of the opportunities I had to geek out when I was younger — my own teenage insecurities kept that from happening. I don’t watch the Weather Channel as often as I used to, but I still treasure any moment where I get to experience the weather in all its beauty. Gotta make up for lost time.
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