I have a thing for weather. Hurricanes especially.
To my siblings and me, Hurricane Carla (1961) was an adventure. Mama filled the bathtub with water. My brothers borrowed a boat from our cousin Bill and we paddled through the neighborhood seeing things with a new pair of eyes.
A week later, we all loaded up in Daddy’s convertible and drove down to Bolivar Peninsula to take a peek. A peek was just about what it was too. The hurricane had turned Highway 87 into a long narrow hallway with giant walls of sand piled on both sides.
While some folks were able to retrieve an item or two from their beach house — we got something else. Amazingly, somehow a baby nanny goat survived the storm! We bundled her up in a towel, named her Magnolia Blossom and brought her back to Beaumont, where she lived in our back yard. We took turns feeding her with a baby bottle twice her size.
I remember vividly one summer afternoon, when a lightning storm commenced so fiercely that I crawled underneath a chair where Ida Gilmore (our beloved housekeeper) sat, utterly still and holding her hands. We didn’t see the strike, but we sure heard it!
It hit the pine tree in our front yard sounding like a bowling ball scoring a strike. I saw the trunk and thought of the scab on my knee, only this one was huge! Today, the scar on that tree is still there, but slightly smoother.
Even now, my favorite part in the movie The Wizard of Oz is that damn tornado. Mesmerizing. In fact, whether it’s a full moon or monsoon, I find weather in general fascinating.
How fascinating? Each morning around dawn I’m usually tuned to the Weather Channel. If it’s during a tropical update (10 minutes before the hour) I’m fixed. My husband enjoys embellishing this fact. He’ll stand, holding onto an imaginary railing, making whistling sounds and rocking back and forth like he’s in a small boat on the high seas.
For those of you who share a similar addiction to storms and weather period, you’ll love the Weather Museum! It’s the best-kept secret in Houston.
The Weather Museum, also known as the Weather Research Center (WRC), is a two-story white brick house on the northwest corner of Caroline and Palm street (sorta perfect huh?) It holds nine permanent exhibits and three full time meteorologists, with an expansion in the works. Student meteorologists are also hired to teach summer camp and to help in the museum.
The signage out front reads The John C. Freeman Weather Museum at Weather Research Center. Dr. John C. Freeman (since deceased) was a meteorologist and oceanographer. He had been active in his field long before he and his daughter Jill F. Hasling (president and a certified consulting meteorologist) opened the museum.
His work and contributions in meteorology are extensive, but the part that perhaps best captures Dr. Freeman also describes The Weather Museum. “Dr. Freeman’s love of weather and science education touched the lives of many Houstonians, and others across the country.”
Jill Hasling was out of town the day I visited the museum, but framed and hanging on a wall is an article from the Houston Chronicle, with a great photograph of her. She’s wearing a hard hat and holding one hand on her hip, standing amongst weather instruments in the yet to open, interactive weather museum. The title of the article reads IN HER ELEMENT. It sure looks like she’s home.
“We’re small but we’ve packed a lot of information into it,” said Maureen Maiuri, executive director and meteorologist. Indeed.
The exhibits are:
WRC-TV Studio — also known as the Green Screen Room — a blast!
Interactive Climate Zone
Hurricanes, Cyclones & Typhoons
Weather Video Room
City on the Bayou: Houston’s History Through Floods
Observation Deck/Hurricane Ike
Maiuri’s favorite part of the museum is the Weather Sphere, where you can view images on a 3D digital globe. “It shows how weather in Houston moves around the earth,” she explained.
From the offices upstairs, she starts every morning early providing forecasting services for various oil companies. The oil companies, whether in the Gulf of Mexico, off shore Trinidad, or the Mediterranean Sea all share three primary interests — tropical weather, wind and waves.
“We also educate and train young meteorologists the art of marine and tropical meteorology,” Maiuri explained. “We want to make the community weatherwise — we talk a lot about safety preparation.”
At The Weather Museum, you’re sure to learn something new, even for us hurricane junkies. For instance I didn’t know that in our trusty hurricane survival kit, we’re missing two items — a whistle and a white distress flag. Both could come in handy any time in our house!
Aside from the exhibits you can reach for one of the brochures, abundant and all informative. I found the one called Remembering Carla 50 Years Later especially nifty. You can learn about storm surge that even those poorest in math like myself can understand and calculate. There’s a section on Zip Zone Evacuation — a list of zip codes on one page correlating to the color-coded counties on a map opposite.
Of course some of this information you can get off of the Internet but it’s not anything like being there — inside this interactive weather museum — touching a tornado created in water vapor, giving a weather forecast, viewing classic tornado and hurricane footage.
“I love the museum and I want to see it grow,” Maiuri told me. Apparently, it is. In 2010, 8500 people came through the museum.
It may be the best-kept secret in Houston but certainly, not for long. For weather lovers, it’s a jewel.