Weather geeks want more snow

By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 14, 2010; A01


No way, says Anita Boice: "I don't think I have a breaking point with snow. I love all this snow."

Boice, a Coast Guard field biologist from Woodbridge, is a rare breed of Washingtonian: She's not just excited about predictions of more snow on Monday, she's rooting for the region to become absolutely buried. Again. "Feets and feets of snow!" Boice says hopefully. "I know a lot of people hate it. My mom hates it. And there's bad parts to getting this much snow. But you've gotta enjoy it."

Let most everyone else mutter "sno mas" from behind these enormous drifts; Boice and her fellow winter-weather geeks want nothing more than, well . . . more.

"As long as we've already set the record, let's keep going and get it as high as possible," says Brian DeCorla-Souza. At home in Alexandria, he's been analyzing the latest weather prediction models and comparing notes on the Internet with other amateur forecasters and some professional meteorologists. Major accumulation is looking unlikely; three inches or less seems probable, DeCorla-Souza sighs.

But: "The low could re-form off the coast, explode and give us another 10 inches or something like that," he says, giddy about that long-shot scenario. "My wife would be happy if she never saw another snowflake again. But this is the greatest winter ever."

It doesn't take a Washington Post-ABC News poll to figure out that the overwhelming majority of people around here -- most adults, anyway -- have had it with this record-breaking season of snoverkill.

But some folks actually prefer it when the weather outside is frightful. "I always root for more and more snow," says Walter Crain, a residential architect from Falls Church. "There's never enough snow. People who say there's too much -- it's like saying: 'Oh, there's too much chocolate in that dessert.' I just think the snow is really awesome."

The appeal is equal parts aesthetic ("I enjoy the pristine beauty of it"), stunted adolescence (Crain spends hours, even days, building snow sculptures in his yard) and, of course, atmospheric science: Whenever a winter storm heads toward Washington, Crain obsessively refreshes The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang blog and studies the latest Global Forecast System and North American Mesoscale models.

"I've even learned some of the technical weather stuff, like what a wraparound band is," Crain says. "It kind of creeps up on you. As it relates to snow, I'm a weather geek."

For those about to nerd out from this winter's excesses, Topper Shutt salutes you. Of course he does: As chief meteorologist at Channel 9 (WUSA-TV) and a guy who hardly sleeps when a big winter storm heads this way, Shutt is one of you.

"I built a weather station when I was 7, and I was forecasting when I was 10," he says. "There are a lot of people like me, hardcore weather nerds who have a lifelong interest in weather. I love every aspect of weather, okay, but my passion is winter storms. Some weather geeks are storm-chasers. Some are hurricane freaks. Some are snow freaks. But we're all freaks."

Weather freaks are like train nuts or ham radio enthusiasts, only their passion revolves around negative tilt troughs and upper air support. They exchange data and predictions and otherwise cross-pollinate online at popular spots such as the Eastern U.S. weather forums. They often speak in code ("12z NAM is closer to your forecast with .5-.75 qpf for the District and S+W and .75+ N+E") and have real accumulation envy: How lucky was Elkridge, Md., with its 38.3 inches last weekend?

"There's a lot of people who are really, really into it, especially the extreme weather," says Dan Stillman, lead meteorologist for the Capital Weather Gang, which serves as something like a sports-talk radio show for the weather-obsessed. "I think the fascination for weather weenies, especially with something like a monster snowstorm, is that it's something we can't control. It's one of the few things left that we don't have a quick remedy for, and people find that cool and exciting."

And because the weather never stops, the fascination can be infinite: "There's always another model run coming," Stillman says, "and whether that includes a big storm or it's just a quiet sunny day, who knows? But there's always weather to predict, and that constantly feeds that passion."

Every few hours, a new computer model lands, leading to fevered debate among those who really care. "I love looking at the models," says Amy Carrier, who works in the office of advancement at Georgetown University. "I'm still very much a newbie at it, but I write down what I think they mean and then rush online to see what everybody else is saying."

"I've been trying so hard to learn what the models mean," says Hilary Woodward, who works at a trade association in the District. Her boyfriend gave her an American Meteorological Society book for Christmas. "Listening to the real meteorologists talk is kind of like porn to me. It's incredibly enticing and intriguing. It sounds all mysterious and above us, somehow."

Woodward is hoping for another extreme weather fix on Monday. "It would mess everything up," she says. "But I can't help but root for more snow."

Stillman understands. He's a snow guy himself: "It's the number one reason I got into weather," he says. This season's historic storms have been great for his business. And yet . . . he lost power during the first storm and had to house-hop with his wife and 2-year-old son. He's tired. He feels your pain. He's snoverit -- for now, anyway. "I'd love to see more snow this winter, but to be honest, if I had my druthers, we'd at least get a couple of weeks off," he says. "Enough is enough."

He laughs. "Unfortunately, I don't have that kind of control over the weather."

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