Working in a blizzard

The first big blizzard of the season has hit the east coast, and it means very different things to folks in various lines of work. Right now I’m stuck in Manhattan (a great place to be stuck!), and here are some of the impressions that sank in as the snow piled higher and deeper:

  • If you’re a small storefront business owner or work for one, this is no fun at all. As I walked across 48th Street yesterday and passed a variety of pizza shops and restaurants, I realized that these businesses are affected profoundly by the blizzard. Those hoping to catch waves of holiday tourists stopping by for a quick bite to eat may have been very disappointed and suffered lower receipts.
  • For anyone who helps to keep physical plants going, a blizzard means hard work. Last night I passed by over a dozen workers moving snow the old fashioned way, with shovels and backbone.
  • For the cast and crew of La Cage Aux Folles (and others on Broadway), it meant the show must go on! And so last night those in the smallish audience — my cousins Judy and Aaron and I included — were treated to a first-rate performance as the snow piled up outside.
  • Waitstaff at the hotel diner where I had a late night snack had to deal with thoughtless guests who traipsed through to the connection to the hotel without ordering a thing, dragging the snow in with them and making the floor slippery and dangerous. I guess the blizzard rendered the 20 or so more feet they could’ve walked to the hotel’s main entrance too difficult to navigate.
  • If your job involves working with information and can be done remotely, you’re probably in luck. Laptops, the Internet, and cell phones have enabled telecommuters and road warriors to do their jobs from just about anywhere.
  • When I talked to my friend Vin who works for Con Edison in New York, all his plans were up in the air because of what the blizzard might mean for those who work to keep the lights on in the city.
  • Customer service reps in any business related to travel, in person and on the phone, were having their patience tried as they dealt with frustrated travelers. Late yesterday evening, the woman at the reception desk at my hotel said her shift had been crazy and was not ending anytime soon.
  • This morning, some will get paid even if they can’t make it to work. Others will lose a day’s pay if they can’t make it in or their place of employment is closed. “Snow days” are great for some, but surely not all.
  • If you’re a TV meteorologist or weather reporter, this is it! Talking about 70 degree days with a touch of clouds probably gets a little dull, but a big ol’ blizzard is a blast.

Just a few snippets about working in a blizzard in the Naked City…

Labors of Love: Chasing Tornadoes

In May I went on a seven-day storm chase through the heart of “Tornado Alley,” hosted by Tempest Tours, a company of professional storm chasers who organize group tours for weather enthusiasts.  It was a remarkable experience, made so in large part by the guides who took us on a 3,000 mile journey through parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska in search of turbulent weather.                                                                                                                       

Our lead tour guide was Bill Reid, a veteran storm chaser who plans his year around the peak chase months.  Holder of a master’s degree in climatology, Bill spends his “off-season” in California, working as an airport weather observer and as a grocery store clerk – jobs offering sufficient flexibility to allow him to spend May and June in America’s heartland.


The driver and guide for my van was Brian Morganti, a retired business owner who began chasing storms a decade ago and now works for Tempest.  When the chase season is over, he returns to his home in Pennsylvania.


These guys don’t make a lot of money working this gig.  I gather that most of them pay for their adventures by leading tours.  What they do get is the gift of seeing nature in an awe-inspiring and powerful state.  Having gotten one taste of it, I can understand what draws them back again and again.


Of course, to new storm chasers like me, the measure of a successful chase tour is whether we intercepted a tornado (or two, or more).  And that we did: Our tour group hit the jackpot within hours of our orientation meeting, intercepting a storm that produced multiple tornadoes in northern Oklahoma.  Here is one of the first tornadoes we saw:


[Photo: David Yamada]

But what truly surprised me was how taken I was by the vistas we encountered throughout our week – the roiling super cells, cloud formations that seemed to stretch on forever, beautiful sunsets unobstructed by high-rise buildings, and nighttime lightning storms flashing on and off in the distance.


Even when the tornado intercepts are few and far between, these guys (and yes, they’re mostly guys, with exceptions such as “Twister Sisters” Melanie Metz and Peggy Willenberg) get to see this stuff throughout their stay in Tornado Alley.  And over meals at roadside diners and fast food joints, they talk about their adventures with attention to detail and gusto.  They discovered storm chasing in different ways, but they are united by a fascination with tornadoes, ongoing study of the weather conditions that produce them, and the thrill of the chase.  They are among a small number of people who have managed to turn storm chasing into a job.

Indeed, in terms of passion for one’s work, this ranks among the Gold Standard.


Tempest Tours:

Bill Reid’s website:

Brian Morganti’s website:


And visit the website of writer Jenna Blum, whose 2007 feature on storm chasing in the Boston Globe travel section led to my signing up, and whose next novel builds on her passion for stormy weather:

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