THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND WANTS YOU
Weather Underground is looking for a few individuals with a commitment to changing everyone’s view of the world.
No, not the band of Sixties revolutionaries who took their name from a Bob Dylan song that asserted “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” I mean the worldwide family of photographers who post pictures of clouds, storms, mountains, scenery, birds, pets and much more at the Internet address www.wunderground.com–doing business as Weather Underground.
You can also get weather reports there. In fact, you can choose three favorite locations for which current weather conditions will come up as soon as you access the site (It’s warmer in Middlebury than Sedona, Arizona? Hmm.) So if you parents moved to Florida, or you ex is in Texas, or your best friend has joined the Californicanation, you can get a glimpse of their living conditions. Then, if you click on that location, pictures will come up posted by people who live in that area.
I’m talking about this because many people see tourism as having new importance to our economy, with manufacturing continuing to decline, farming struggling, and construction hit by the housing industry’s woes. Knowing something about this state’s inventive and energetic entrepreneurs and creative farmers from two decades of business reporting, I’m less inclined than many to count them out—and people are always going to want good places to raise their children or escape stifling cities or grow old and try to be wiser in peace.
But still, it would hurt to help tourism if we can. Other states have whopping promotional budgets—I Love New York, Virginia is For Lovers, etc.—that the State of Vermont will never match. But photo-sharing sites are a way that individuals can alert the world to our glories—literally the world—at little or no cost.
There are many more that Weather Underground. I’ve paid to post on pBase under the handle copyedEDitor because their galleries are so simple to access and often of top quality, TrekEarth lets you choose countries to visit and covers almost all of them, Community Webshots has great stuff if you can get past their relentless efforts to make you a subscriber, there are Flickr and SmugMug and many more, including fabulous specialized sites like Astronomy Picture of the Day.
But I’m pointing to Weather Underground because it has such a community feeling, and is so welcoming of amateur photographers who happen to love the outdoors.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many first-class fotogs, too, including mountain-climbers, off-road trekkers, world travelers, and wildlife photographers with those lenses that look like antitank weapons. You probably read or heard or saw something about the wildfire that consumed part of California near Hollywood, taking a number of big residences thanks to hot, windy weather; well, one of WU’s posters is an emergency helicopter flyer, whose perspectives on that and other blazes soar and sear. In one, a chemical-dropper plane passes close by, lower than the rooftop of the house it is protecting—that kind of inside insight.
In any given day, pictures are likely come from three continents or more. Lena in Slovenia seems to be in a contest with the guys in Slovakia to prove who has the most striking and picturesque mountains—or are they both chasing the Italian fellow who transmits high-altitude shots from the Dolomites?
Tonight, the guy in St. Petersburg, Russia sent pictures of snow falling, the Warrenton, Virginia guy captured another hard-to-see bird, an Iowan (where it’s wet) sent alarming flood pictures, Florida (where it’s dry) put up hellacious wildfire smoke clouds, South Carolina contributed shots of massive ocean waves attacking a pier, and Oklahoma showed all was not OK with Bell Cow Lake, where wind had churned the water clay red.
Under the handle ERLBarna, I’ve put up pictures of Addison County’s snow and cloud formations, Middlebury Falls, and the masses of trillium that county residents who love flowers make pilgrimages to see in May. But there’s plenty of room for other Vermonters, especially because good outdoor pictures, especially sunsets, have a way of appearing and disappearing in a seconds.
Together, we Vermonters can tell the world, literally, what a great place this is to visit—and don’t neglect to put up some mud season and snowbound pictures to let them know it can be a tough place to live. I’ve told the state’s Tourism and Marketing people that they ought to have a micro-grant program that would pay the fees some sites require. WU is cheap: for a small fee, they take away most of the ads for a year (which greatly assists browsing the pictures abd helps to support a worthwhile cause) and it’s a snap to upload pictures.
As some of the foregoing suggests, Weather Underground is a good place to get a sense of how global overenergizing is not just global warming, but a shift to dramatic unpredictability and extremes of weather. Again and again the words with the pictures express surprise or shock, at flowers blooming two months early in London, or snow coming too far into all sorts of places, and always that fierce ocean slamming into things.
Take one look at a picture of a tornadic supercell cloud from Oklahoma, Kansas, or Texas, and you’ll be glad to live in Vermont. Don’t underestimate the appeal that Vermont’s relative tranquility may have, as we drive farther along the flooded road that leads into the future, hoping what comes will trend upward rather than downward.
A later Rutland Herald blog
Weather Underground, Continued
This being the Fourth of July, a time to consider what it means to be an American, I want to share a way that anyone online can be part of a worldwide community. I do care about this country, but the idea of a nation is indivisible from the existence of other nations, and the better we know and the more we appreciate other countries, the more we will appreciate and the better we will know our own.
“Everyone talks about the weather,” goes an old saying, “but no one does anything about it.” Today, we know the last part isn’t true. All our actions influence climate change, and the worldwide community I will momentarily describe shares an in-depth knowledge of this.
In Vermont, though, talking about the weather is still the most common way for strangers to get from grim to grin. Maybe the information exchanged is banal, but as Winston Churchill famously said about negotiations, “Jaw jaw is better than war war.” This northland eye-on-the-sky-speak isn’t just heritage from our predominantly agricultural past, when an old-timer with a deeply intuitive weather sense might indeed have a better understanding of when it was safe to put in seed or to cut hay or go to market. We divide up the land, making our homes our castles, but we share the air–as one contemporary poet puts it in a piece about the seeming humanity of the moaning and crying of a strong night wind, “we go all the way to the wind/ and the wind goes everywhere else.”
Which brings us to Weather Underground. The name of this online gathering, accessible by all at www.wundergound.com, comes ultimately from a Bob Dylan song “Subterranean Homesick Blues” in which he raps (he was a pioneer rap innovator, in case you hadn’t noticed) “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” The political thrust of that line did not go unnoticed by a faction of the leftist Yippies who, frustrated by the failure of peaceful methods to end the Vietnam War, decided to try violent upheaval—under the name The Weather Underground.
Today’s Weather Underground is a peaceable lot, exception for the violence implied in some of the storm pictures that people from all around the world sometimes post on the site. Under the categories of Very Important Pictures (weather disasters like the recent flooding in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas), Approver’s Choice (subtitled “a bit of inspiration”—good shots, of anything outdoors), Weather, and Outdoors, both amateurs and pros contribute. Aside from some people putting their names on the shots, the participants don’t let copyright considerations block them from letting people make personal use of the medium-resolution photos.
People can email back and forth via the site, or blog, so it has truly become a community. An expert in bird identification will help someone put a name on a rarer species for that area; a pro fotog will give tips to someone who says they’re just beginning and would welcome critiques; and the captions, sometimes quite extensive, give the homebound an opportunity to ride a virtual tour bus. When a regular poster goes silent, there is general concern; right now, for instance, a lot of people are waiting for Lampy, a railroad enthusiast, to post another of his fabulous train-in-operation shots.
“What a unique way to see the world through others’ eyes!” writes kathydee in Ohio, who had sent in 331 pictures—all of which can be viewed, 50 at a time, by clicking on her online handle—of which 11 were Approver’s Choices. One of the latest was a heartbreaking picture of an old coal miner’s two-room disability retirement homestead—a friend of kathydee’s who will no longer bring her blackberries despite his ailments because he just succumbed to them. This site has heart.
Last night I started listing the countries from which pictures had arrived on Weather Underground. With only 12 hours gone, the following have taken part: Montenegro, Latvia, Belize, Croatia, Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Slovakia (maybe should count as two because Lena from Slovenia is vacationing there), Greece, France, the Netherlands, Canada, Bahrain, Thailand, and the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. I know, the last isn’t a country by legal definition, but for true it is one of the ends of the earth. Russian, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, India, Japan, Mongolia, and many more have chimed in at other times.
Ends of the earth: there are people who climb mountains and send back their peak experiences; seashore dwellers document the infinite moods of the seascape; veteran wildlife photographers add closeups that no casual picturetaker could ever equal; and stormchasers, that death-defying breed who go after tornadoes and travel TOWARD hurricanes, send images that can be genuinely terrifying. Vermont, be glad you’re in a geographical location where the big storm systems arrive exhausted and panting: there are clouds in the middle states of this country that are enough to make you shake, never mind the storms themselves. Look up superstormchaser Mike Theiss’s glimpses of supercells that look like they arrive with instructions to 1. Open chuck; 2. Insert drill; 3. Tighten chuck; 4. Send pieces flying everywhere and leave a big hole behind.
Spend a year looking at Weather Underground and it’s hard not to believe in climate change. Not “global warming” exactly, because the extra energy that the warming puts into the system drives it to all kinds of extremes. Kansas soaks while Florida burns. London gets hail on July 3 so deep it looks like the sidewalks and streets are deep with snow, while elsewhere you get to see what it’s like driving into a dust storm. At one point earlier this year, a location reported flowers opening two months early, with snow on top of them. Lightning bolts so powerful that the photographer was scared even while in his car. Coldest on record, warmest on record, hurricane winds without a hurricane—meteorologically, it’s a world gone mad.
So, as I implied earlier, there is a serious side to all this weather talk. As quietly as the fog that sometimes swallows half of the Golden Gate Bridge, so that it appears to emerge from a tunnel, the necessary consensus is building.