Monday, February 26, 2024

PHALON’S FILE: Why I Like Weather

Thundersnubbed again. I watched with envy this week as my trusty Doppler radar indicated storms passing to the north, the south and pretty much every other place where I was not. Yes, my name is Joe, and I am a weather junkie.

Perhaps you are like me. Not too much, I hope, but enough to understand the subdued thrill of seeing the Doppler light up like a Christmas tree. I get as excited as a 12-year-old who did not do his homework learning of an advancing snowstorm.

Thunderstorms, however, are the Holy Grail of severe weather to somebody like me. To be clear: I don’t wish for bad weather on anyone; I just try to appreciate the weather that’s happening anyway.

The things that fascinate many of us are often the result of fears we have conquered. When I was about 3 or 4 years old, I walked a few steps into the backyard during a seemingly benign March shower. From nowhere, lightning ripped out of the sky though a tree in the neighbor’s yard with an instantaneous blast of thunder that jolted me out of my shoes.

For several years afterward, I trembled at the very sight of clouds gathering to the southwest—even in December. I kept this fear to myself for a few years, but as it became obvious, I could no longer conceal it from my peers, so I challenged it and overcame it, eventually taunting the weather. Within a few years, I had become known as the Human Lightning Rod for my occasional reckless confrontations with bad weather.

That experience as a kid provoked a lifelong interest in severe weather. That interest was put to the test a few years back when the magazine I worked for at the time assigned me to take part in a shark-tagging tournament from Montauk, Long Island. The idea was to catch sharks, reel them in, measure them and then release them with tags that would allow biologists to track their migration.

We headed out at 4 a.m. and sailed about 60 miles. The morning fog never quite lifted, and just after I caught and tagged a 90-pound blue shark, lightning flashed not far from our vessel. My first instincts were to yell that we had to get off the water. But, oh yeah, we were four hours from the nearest land.

Just then, another member of our party hooked something that the captain of the boat knew was a big one, just as the storm rolled right on top of us. Waves came over the sides, lightning hit the boat and the water all around us, and these maniacs were not going to let this shark—a 300-pound thresher—get away. My kind of people!

It took three hours to reel it in, during which time we were slammed by at least three storms in a row. So, I embraced it. Bring it on, Mother Nature!

I watched from the bridge for a while and imagined myself as Mark Walhberg watching George Clooney helming the Andrea Gail. Then I remembered the Andrea Gail was never heard from again, so I went outside and became Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump: “You call this a storm?!?”

But we survived, and I had quite a story to tell. Even the veteran first mate said he’d rarely seen weather like that and was pretty impressed. I’m glad he said that, because had he said something like “Oh, yeah. That was nothing,” I would have pushed him into the bay.”

Bolts over Blairstown. Photo by J. Phalon, 5/2023
Joe Phalon
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.

Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.

Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.

Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.