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The Happy Refrains of Singing About the Rain

By John Kelly
Thursday, October 16, 2008

"And the wind cries Mary," Jimi Hendrix once sang, which, I suppose, is a lot better than the wind crying "Britney" or "Madison" -- or "Marvin." There's something timeless about "Mary," and there's something elemental about the wind. In fact, take a woman's name, wed it to a weather metaphor and you've got yourself a song.

It's this nexus of music and meteorology that Andrew "Woody" Woodcock and Chris Strong will be exploring this weekend at the dedication of a new National Weather Service forecast office in Sterling. The two Weather Service meteorologists will perform an hour's worth of weather-centric material, including Hendrix's "The Wind Cries Mary."

They will not, however, be dropping acid and setting their guitars on fire.

"Every song that we're going to do has at least some relation to the weather, some looser than others," Woody said. Of course, there's "Rain" by the Beatles, Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" and Simon and Garfunkel's "Hazy Shade of Winter." There's also what Woody calls one of the most meteorologically accurate songs ever recorded: "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot.

Woody, 46, and Chris, 36, have worked together since 1994 at the Baltimore/Washington Forecast Office, the ground zero of area meteorology. They play together in the band Strangewax and released a CD a few years ago, though they haven't quit their day -- and night -- jobs.

"Somehow fame eluded us, so we are still meteorologists first and foremost," Woody said. "Being shift workers makes it hard for us to even find time to practice, let alone do shows."

They don't just perform other people's weather songs. They write their own. Woody's song "Mitchell" is told from the viewpoint of a Central American affected by Hurricane Mitch. Chris's "Rainino" is a spurned-lover sort of number the title of which combines "rain" with "El Nino."

Chris, however, says the word "isobar" has not appeared in any of their songs.

And it's not like they're obsessed with weather, despite what people might think. Said Woody: "When we did our CD, the media was saying, 'There's so many weather references.' That really wasn't intentional. I looked up U2's 'Joshua Tree,' and there are like eight songs with weather references."

Why do songwriters love dipping into the weather bag so much anyway?

"Weather obviously is a very powerful image," Woody said. "It's something everyone can relate to, which is one of the reasons it's used so much in song. Springsteen wanted to write a happy song, so he wrote 'Waiting on a Sunny Day.' We're not doing any songs about sun, actually."

So don't expect to hear "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina & the Waves.

This weekend's festivities include tours of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association wind tunnel, workshops on becoming a weather spotter and hourly weather balloon launches. But surely the highlight will be at 4 each afternoon when Chris, Woody and Woody's Ashburn neighbor Lisa Doherty present their multimedia salute to weather in music and prose. (And poetry: On Saturday, Bob Ryan will read weather poems. On Sunday, Sue Palka will do the honors.)

The open house is from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For information go to http://www.erh.noaa.gov/er/lwx/openhouse.

Don't Need a Weatherman

I'm a bit of a songwriter myself, and here are a few titles I came up with: "Her Kiss Is Like a Wintry Mix" (imagine Hall & Oates), "His Dew Point Is More Like a Don't Point," "Since You Left Me a Low Pressure System Has Settled Over My Heart," "Friend-Chill Factor: The Wingman Song" and the stirring "It's Snowing (Let's Share Our Milk and Toilet Paper)," which features this verse:

I met her in the parking lot at Giant

Bob Ryan said that snow was on the way

We left the dairy section empty-handed

Let's hope for better luck at the Safeway.

Bloggy Bottom

Hey, I'm starting a blog on washingtonpost.com Monday. It's called "John Kelly's Commons." Those of you who studied the history of English pasturing processes will recognize that word as referring to common land where communities can graze their cattle. What's that have to do with my blog? Well, let's just say it will be a place to chew our digital cud.

I hope you'll join me there.

To hear Strangewax's "Rainino," go tohttp://www.washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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