If it's possible to love something just because it could visit torrents upon the Washington region, fling hail from the skies and swell streams into rivers, then Jason Samenow is smitten.
This, after all, is hurricane season, and the Internet meteorologist is on high alert, tracking the path of Hurricane Charley up the East Coast. The nation's weather bloggers -- Samenow was one of the first -- are losing sleep, checking charts, feasting on National Weather Service updates. Hunker down, the weathermen say. Unless, of course, you run a weather blog, in which case the thrill is just beginning.
There is a cable channel for people like Samenow, who is 28, and at one point, not too long ago, that was enough. Weather, 24 hours a day, in the same, simple form -- what could be better? This could, he says about the dozens of weather blogs that have cropped up around the country since the beginning of the year. Samenow's blog, www.CapitalWeather.com, and the others provide up-to-the-minute forecasts for a new set of the weather-obsessed, part of a generation that increasingly looks to the Internet as its primary source of news and that wants personality with its predictions. Informed, entertaining, for sure, but the Weather Channel this ain't.
Anticipating a "quadruple whammy" this weekend, Samenow blogs in the wee hours that strong storms will "pop" over the area, with a fizzle from Tropical Storm Bonnie and a solid "punch" from her successor, Charley. Posted alongside the storm analysis is a magnified photo of a 1.5-inch chunk of ice placed next to a ruler, like a piece of Diamonique jewelry displayed on QVC.
While an earlier generation of "weather weenies" will be stuck in front of the TV, Samenow will not be idle. No, a storm hits and he drives toward it, from his apartment in Van Ness to the maelstrom in Virginia, to collect evidence for his weather blog. He checks out Doppler radar, dew points, jet stream winds, satellite images, vorticity maps and convective parameters, and creates his own forecast, which he details under such subject headings as "Amazing Alex" or "Flood Redux" or "Thunder in the blogosphere." Come the apocalypse, you begin to think, he would probably be outside with a thermometer and a tape measure preparing an entry: "End of the World???"
Perhaps, Samenow says, there are those who cannot fathom the appeal of blogging the weather. Weather is the topic of idle conversation, not heated debate, incompatible with intrigue, what you discuss at the water cooler when there's absolutely nothing else to say -- right? Not exactly, the blogger says. The weather constantly changes and we constantly change with it. Nothing is more elemental.
Its ubiquity is part of what makes it perfect blog fodder, says Leslie Campisi, 26, a blogger on the weather portion of Gothamist, a popular New York-based blog. The site, www.gothamist.com/weather, which launched this March, receives 5,000 to 10,000 hits a day, Campisi says, far more than any other specialized section, including those on sports, food and advice.
"The thing I love about weather," she says, is that it's "something we're all sort of in together."
When she was little, Campisi would sit with her grandfather in Louisiana and track the paths of hurricanes. Around that time was born a fantasy in which Campisi is standing in the middle of a torrential downpour in a yellow rain slicker, with a microphone, talking about how hard the rain is coming down.
"Weather freaks," is how Andrew Freedman, an improv comic and another CapitalWeather blogger, sees this new generation. He delivered his first presentation on cloud formations in the second grade. Samenow's interest began with the snowstorms of 1987 and was cemented at age 13 when he won first place in an oratorical contest with a speech on his ambition to be a weatherman. For fellow CapitalWeather blogger Josh Larson, from Chevy Chase, it was the Blizzard of '93. He drank four glasses of water before going to bed each night, so he was sure to wake up when the snowstorms were starting.
In the last six months, weather aficionados in New York, California, Pennsylvania and throughout the Midwest have set up blogs, covering local or global weather fronts with attitude and energy. The current collection of bloggers shows various levels of professionalism and degrees of technical proficiency. Kathryn Saussy, a 33-year-old senior meteorology major at San Francisco State University, runs a blog called "Wind," which focuses exclusively on atmospheric dynamics and lately has contemplated a "lovely image of Typhoon Mindulle." And Bill Young, 31, maintains "what I like to think of as the Drudge Report for weather," which right now serves as a weblink clearinghouse about Charley, from his home in northern Texas. The CapitalWeather crew is relatively conventional. They revere local celebrity weatherman Bob Ryan but aspire to more eccentricity. "When the weather gets a little bit dull," Samenow says, "we try to liven it up."
During the balmy days of the Democratic National Convention, Samenow's blog picked up a Kerry/Edwards campaign trope:
If you're seeking warm, humid days with highs near 90 . . . hope is on the way.
If the risk of an afternoon or evening thunderstorm excites you, especially on Sunday . . . hope is on the way.
If you've been long awaiting the formation of this season's first Atlantic tropical storm . . . hope is on the way.
But when hurricanes come, all levity vanishes. This is the true calling of the amateur weatherman. There are untold thousands out there in cyberspace counting on updates. Out come the charts, the statistics, the initial analyses.
After a breathless rundown of Charley's progress through Cuba, Ed Oswald, 25, a television production assistant who runs a weather blog in Philadelphia, writes at 7:06 a.m. Friday, "He still looks real nice on satellite and appears from hurricane hunter data to be strengthening again, with pressure starting to fall rapidly again. "
For days, Gothamist's Joe Schumacher has followed the progression of storms, every time predicting rain: "We'll try not to sound like a broken record, but as long as the front hangs out in our 'hood, and as long as tropical moisture streams our way, we don't have much choice in the matter."
Schumacher, 43, has a degree in meteorology from the same school as Al Roker. Another blogger at Gothamist, Kevin Porterfield, 32, studied music technology in college. His big weather blogging feat: He interviewed the man in charge of picking out elevator-type music for the Weather Channel. Asked to match a soundtrack to this weekend, Porterfield suggests the rock band White Stripes because it's "raw, unpredictable, in your face."
Recently, four CapitalWeather bloggers crowded around a computer contemplating just that -- exactly what conditions the brewing hurricanes will bring. The bloggers occasionally refer to a quote popular in the weather community, attributed to Benjamin Franklin: "Some are weatherwise; most are otherwise." In service of the latter they are particularly cautious about predicting storms. But in the midst of this restraint, Larson whispers the two words that, in the wake of Bonnie and Charley, could send weather bloggers into a frenzy this fall: El Nino.
Samenow hushes him before anyone gets too excited. Larson emphasizes it is far too early to be sure of anything, but the result could be -- and they qualify this with a thousand caveats -- a mild winter in Washington. In the meantime, the bloggers hope to avoid the one question they seem to hear more than any other.
"I'm sick of getting, 'Can you change the forecast?' " Larson says.
"Yeah," Samenow says. "People always ask me to serve up a nice, sunny, 75-degree day for tomorrow."
So, out of curiosity, any chance of that happening?
"No," he says, happily, looking forward to a storm.