The mud-brown leaves, pressed flat and brittle by winter snow, swirl around on my blue tarp looking for a way to escape the mulch pile. A gust blows from the west. I run to the far side of the tarp to push the leaves back. A gust blows from the east. I run back to the other side flailing with my rake against the rising tide.
But the leaves will do what they want. They hang in balance against the edge of the tarp and then whisk out over the top to scoot across the road and rest in the neighbor’s yard. A flight to freedom.
Let’s face it, the wind is a fickle friend. Sometimes it corrals the leaves into a twirling pile ready to be scooped onto my tarp; other times, it sits up in the tree tops, moaning like spirits at a seance, only to swoop down with a splat, scattering dead leaves and grass.
“Our strongest winds are in the fall and the spring. It’s really about low pressure. Wind moves from high to low pressure. With high pressure, you have descending air and air that kind of spreads out. With low pressure, everything goes toward the area of low pressure and lifts from that. The stronger the low pressure system, the stronger the winds we are going to have.”
Are you sure the wind’s not triggered by me coming outside with a rake?
Rod Donavon gives a slow smile that starts in his eyes long before it makes his mouth. A senior meteorologist for the National Weather Service located in Des Moines, Iowa, he has a radio voice that speaks with calm assurance.
At least he is calming to me as he talks over the computer — the only way to communicate because of COVID restrictions at the National Weather Service offices.
“I grew up in Northeast Iowa. Have been at the Des Moines office for the past 18 years. We are open at the National Weather Service 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
Shift work for all the employees. Great for us. Not so easy for Rod and his family with kids and activities.
And while Rod’s working, the wind is blustering.
Winnie the Pooh says when talking about a blustery day in the 100 Acre Wood:
“Oh, then I think I shall wish everyone a Happy Windsday.”
So, Rod, why do such a crazy job as predicting the weather?
“The National Weather Service motto is protection of life and property, and that’s really what drew me to the National Weather Service because we are the sole voice for issuing a severe thunderstorm, tornado warning, a winter storm warning, etc.”
“I wanted to be part of that process and make a difference.”
Or, as our own Herbert Hoover said about this notion:
“Being a politician is a poor profession. Being a public servant is a noble one.”
This spring brought tornadoes that left terrible tragedies and death. Rod was in the middle from the National Weather Service offices.
NBC News — “The tornado may have touched down, skipped and touched down again, with ‘a couple different segments,’ said Rod Donavon, a meteorologist in the NWS Des Moines office.”
“This last event of March 5 was the biggest event we’ve had with loss of life for a long time,” Rod tells me.
A total of seven dead — including two children. Loss of property. Families devastated.
“You have to remain focused and get the job done. But, afterwards, it is an emotional roller coaster we go through.”
The wind rattles the window behind my computer screen. I take a slow drink of coffee.
So, what about the weather today?
“We have a severe weather potential tonight. There’s going to be hail. We’re not done with winter weather with the wind and the cold coming in tomorrow and chance of snowfall coming in. It is complicated, and figuring it out will take up most of my day.”
And the wind?
“We are in the cold side and the warm side. The closer together the pressure lines, the stronger the winds are going to be. Boone, Webster City and Hampton, gusts are at 40 mph right now. So today is a windy day.”
I go back outside. I listen to the trees talking high above as their branches rock back and forth with the gusts. The dead leaves are still waiting for my rake. But, at my feet, I see the wind has uncovered a surprise.
Hmmm… no one got hurt today, the sun is shining, and here, at my feet, is the yearly promise of rebirth. Perhaps it is a Happy “Windsday” after all. ♦
Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: