Issue: January 2002
Noah Be Thy Name

When I was a little kid and Dad would turn on the weather radio, he always said something like, "Let's hear what NOAA has to say." NOAA, of course, is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but I always thought Dad meant Noah-as in the guy with the ark. That man knew from nasty weather. (Go ahead, snicker at my youthful malapropism, but I'm willing to bet more than one of you recited the Lord's Prayer with "Harold be thy name.") After a trip last fall from the Yeocomico River to Solomons Island, though, I was mulling a less ambiguous name than Noah for the weather radio. It was "the liar."

There is always some reasonable explanation why, after NOAA has predicted north winds of 20 to 25 knots and waves of three to five feet, you find yourself out there in 30 to 40 knots of breeze and waves that clearly have gotten lost on their way to the Gulf Stream. In this case, it was a low pressure system that intensified off the coast quicker than an Irish temper. Understand, I don't hold it against the forecasters. How are they to read Mother Nature's mind? And let the record show that they did at least nail the wind direction, which naturally was blasting from exactly where we needed to go (another of boating's little truisms, that). But still, I was muttering to myself as we rocketed down the Potomac River with a reef in the main and the number three cinched tight. "Hmm," I said as a boisterous puff pushed us onto a wave that we surfed for a long moment. "That was impressive." It wasn't even 10 in the morning yet, and we weren't even out in the Bay.

Several hours later, clawing our way dead upwind toward Hooper Island Light, I was awed as ever at how big the Chesapeake can suddenly be. Three days earlier we'd been swimming here, floating on a Bay of blown glass; now, even changing places at the tiller was like switching seats while riding the Anaconda at King's Dominion. I began to wonder what the forecasters were smoking, and whether we could get some. When we finally pulled into Zahniser's in Solomons, one hot shower away from heaven, I found out that for once I hadn't exaggerated the windspeed. It had been blowing 30 knots-officially-right there in the marina for much of the day. Everyone showing up from the north looked so satisfied they could have lit up a couple of smokes. Those of us from the south looked like wet roadkill.

I suspect being a forecaster is a thankless job. You give it your best shot and then wait for forces far beyond your control to make you look as intelligent as a chia pet. "Liar" was probably one of the only printable names being bandied about on the Bay that day. And as wet and wild as it was, we still had fun. I think. So let's have a little sympathy for poor old Noah. Who knows what 40 days and nights of hard rain and camel breath can do to a guy.