By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 23, 2005
They're devastating, they're awe-inspiring, they're terrifying. In this season of tropical discontent, hurricanes captivate Brendan Loy.
The 23-year-old law student, who isn't a trained meteorologist, pores over the new advisory issued by the National Hurricane Center every three hours. He easily spouts off the names of hurricanes and how old he was when they struck. "I was 7 going on 8 when Hugo hit South Carolina," he says, "and I was 9 going on 10, on a family vacation in Nova Scotia, when Bertha hit." When he was 14, he asked his dad to drive him to a beach in Rhode Island to watch surf churned up by a distant hurricane, also a Bertha. Standing on the beach, he delivered a news report to his father's video camera.
He's been watching the Weather Channel for so long that he can tell you what Jim Cantore's hair looked like in the early 1990s. Cantore is nearly bald now. "You can tell from the live reports that he files that he has the same intensity that I do when he's reporting on a hurricane," says Loy. "It's a look, a wild-eyed look, his eyes kind of bugged out. You can tell that he's excited and scared at the same time, and that's exactly how I feel."
Right now, Loy is taking a break from pounding away on his laptop to do a phone interview about his blog. Sitting on his couch, a 12-inch PowerBook G4 on his lap, remote control in hand, Loy chronicles hurricanes -- "from birth to death," he says, from Katrina to Rita to Wilma.
"It's official: . . . ALPHA BECOMES THE TWENTY-SECOND NAMED STORM OF THE SEASON AND BREAKS THE ALL-TIME RECORD FOR THE MOST ACTIVE SEASON ON RECORD . . . I've been talking about this possibility for months, and it has seemed virtually inevitable for weeks, but I'm still sort of stunned that it's actually happened," he wrote yesterday in a 4:09 p.m. posting.
Loy is a second-year law student at the University of Notre Dame, and if that seems like a curious combination -- a lawyering weatherman -- consider that he named his blog IrishTrojan.com. That's in honor of the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame and the Trojans of the University of Southern California, his alma mater, longtime football rivals. "I root for USC always. I root for Notre Dame when they're not playing USC," he explains. He blogs about the Trojans, the Irish, his fiancee, Becky Zak, his dog Robbie, his cats Toby, Sasha and Buttercup -- and not necessarily in that order. But lately it's mostly hurricanes. In Katrina's calamitous wake, nearly a dozen weather blogs have built strong followings. Loy's averages a few thousand hits a day and last week counted its one millionth unique visitor.
Bloggers bring people together to watch, predict and analyze what will come next. They e-mail one another, link to each other's blogs, and sometimes get highly detailed in their postings. "This is because the storm's high rate of forward motion, near 25-30 mph, will add to the windspeeds seen on the south side of the Wilma's counterclockwise rotation, and subtract on the north side," Jeff Masters wrote in his blog, hosted by WunderGround.com. Loy often links to Masters's blog and another, TheStormTrack.com.
"In a situation like this, birds of a feather kinda flock together," says Bryan Woods, the 22-year-old Yale University graduate student in geophysics who co-founded StormTrack. "Brendan really acts as a distribution point for disseminating information. He is like the middle man between the weather experts and the public."
This, perhaps, isn't so surprising. Loy is a man who, after all, published, edited, wrote and circulated his own newspaper as a seventh-grader in Martin Kellogg Middle School in Newington, Conn., a suburb of Hartford. He's an only child. His parents, Joe and Leanna, had brought home a Compaq computer for Christmas, and two days later, the Living Room Times was born. He wrote for school papers during high school and as a journalism major at USC. He started his blog in April 2002.
On Aug. 26, three days before Katrina struck New Orleans, Loy wrote: "At the risk of being alarmist, we could be 3-4 days away from an unprecedented cataclysm that could kill as many as 100,000 people in New Orleans. . . . If I were in New Orleans, I would seriously consider getting the hell out of dodge right now, just in case." IrishTrojan.com surged in popularity. By the end of August, his was the most frequently cited hurricane-related blog, according to Intelliseek, which measures blog links.
"I wasn't saying anything that the National Hurricane Center wasn't already saying," he adds. "Frankly, the media wasn't paying much attention to it until too late in the game."
His fascination with weather is "just one of the little eccentricities that make Brendan the man he is," says his longtime girlfriend and now fiancee, Zak, 23. The two will marry on Dec. 30. "It's mildly frustrating because he tends to allow his blog to monopolize his priorities -- well, for example, he'll blog instead of doing his reading for class. That kind of thing. But at the end of the day, he knows that if it's between me and blogging, I always win."
Yesterday, between football games -- first Notre Dame vs. Brigham Young, then USC against University of Washington -- Loy, true to form, kept close tabs on the hurricane. Check the TV screen. Surf the Web. Blog. Wait for the storm to hit.