Keeping an eye on the sky is good advice

Susan Manzke
Storm clouds over the farm.

I can’t imagine people not paying attention to weather reports. In the past, when we were attempting a family gathering, I was surprised no one else knew a storm was heading our way. Weather reports didn’t seem to be too important to them.

Before meeting my late husband, Bob, I didn’t pay much attention to weather reports either. Maybe I did when big storms were on the way, but not the ordinary rainy days.

From my childhood, I have a memory of a weather report. I can close my eyes today and see it again. First, it was on a small black and white television. The weather guy was standing in front of a chalkboard. A map of northern Illinois was painted on the board. That didn’t change.

What did change was the daily chalk notations of area weather: clouds, raindrops, sun, etc. It seemed the best they could do was report what was coming our way from Iowa. Either that or they opened the window and stuck their head out. It was difficult planning outings in those days because you could never be sure what was going to happen.

One day, tornado weather came toward our home. The sky turned an ugly greenish color making the hair on my arms stand up. About the time we should have been taking cover, going to our neighbors’ basement, Mom decided she had to rescue our goat, Sandra.

I was terrified by the changing weather, but I couldn’t stop Mom from her rescue mission. All I could do was look out the door and wait for Mom to put the goat into the barn. All the time I waited, I expected to see Mom and Sandra flying through the sky like Miss Gulch from the Wizard of Oz—luckily nothing wicked came our way that day.

When I married a farmer, checking the weather report became an everyday happening. From spring, through summer and fall, Bob and I questioned the weather. Would the rain hold off so we could plant, cut hay, or harvest our crops? Sometimes the reports were spot on and other times they missed the mark completely, kind of like how things happen today.

Once Bob was in one of our farthest fields working. The day’s weather said it was perfect for planting. My husband drove his tractor, pulling a corn planter across acres of prepared soil.

Bob planting in 2014.

Bob's attention was pointed to the ground, not up to the sky. It wasn’t until he stopped to fill the planter with seed that he noticed a storm front was almost on top of him.

All Bob could do was get on the ground and crawl under the wagon for protection. That cover wasn’t much but it protected him from the ping-pong ball size hail that fell all around him. When Bob came home and told me of his harrowing experience, he laughed so hard he had tears in his eyes—Bob had an odd sense of humor. And as soon as the storm passed, he was out planting in that same field, but he said he made an extra effort to look up at the sky a little more often.

In April 2021, I took an online course from the National Weather Service. After two zoom courses, I became a Severe Weather Spotter.

Susan shows her Advanced Virtual Spotter Training certificate from the National Weather Service, Green Bay, Wisconsin.

There are spotters all over the area. Even with fancy radar, it helps to hear from people like me who are witnessing an assortment of severe weather: tornadoes, funnel clouds, hail, flooding, happen.

Last year, I did see a funnel cloud to the west of the farm. The first thing I did was to take cover in my basement. The Weather Spotter manual recommends safety first. I didn’t even take time to snap a photo. I was ready to phone in my sighting when I realized I didn’t have the phone number with me and I wasn’t about to head upstairs to look for it—from now on I’ll leave a copy of the manual in the basement, too.

Even though I’m not farming as I had for so many years with Bob, I will continue to watch the weather. After all these years it is part of who I am. I just wish I could watch as good spring planting weather will move into this area.

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165;;,