CAN WE ARM OURSELVES AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE? by Abby Sher
Maplewood’s Max Weisenfeld says it starts with being informed
Do you remember Winter Storm Wesley, the April (!) blizzard that dumped snow on the Great Plains and Midwest and ripped through with winds up to 107 mph? Or maybe you’re more impressed by thunderstorms with nickel-sized hail hitting Texas in May. With wildfires, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes surprising people all over the globe, there’s no denying that these new weather trends are extreme and unpredictable.
So how do we prepare ourselves? Can we even do so? According to Max Weisenfeld: Yes, we can.
“I’m a weather hobbyist. I’m not a meteorologist,” Weisenfeld warns me as we sit down at his kitchen table in Maplewood. “I try to make that clear,” he adds with a warm smile.
For all his humility, Weisenfeld is a fount of scientific information. And he’s created a very generous way to share what he knows so he can help the Maplewood/South Orange community be prepared for the next big weather event. It’s called MAPSO Weather.
This “weather hobby” of Weisenfeld's started shortly after he and his wife decided that he’d be a stay-at-home dad in 2000. Well, not exactly stay-at-home: After a couple of years, Weisenfeld got a job at a sleepaway camp with the New Jersey Y and took his daughter and son with him. He had always had an interest in following the National Weather Service (NWS) radar to tell when a big storm was coming, and at camp this became very useful to both the kids and the staff.
When Weisenfeld got back to Maplewood, a few of his friends in the neighborhood started threads about the weather on Maplewood Online. (Facebook hadn’t really hit by then.) He stuck a rain gauge in his backyard (next to his stone Buddha sculpture) and started studying the daily accounts on the NWS so he could get and share the most accurate picture of what was headed towards Essex County.
Weisenfeld says it’s really just about translating the data that’s already available online. “The television weather reports over-simplify, and the professional meteorologists are hard to understand…so I try to be in the middle.”
The data that Weisenfeld is analyzing is pretty intricate, though. As he soon learned, the local chapter of the NWS (located on Long Island) actually focuses on announcing the weather in New York City. The weather systems and storm tracks for Essex County can be very different from New York City’s, though.
Weisenfeld describes the SOMA community as a narrow, steep river valley. Usually the weather comes over the Poconos, picks up speed and then hits South Mountain. (That’s why you might see a blanket of fog or even snow on the top of South Mountain while it’s clear on Valley Street.)
Weisenfeld started interpreting the NWS information and posting his reports on Maplewood Online. Then, as Facebook gained steam, he started his own page there, called MAPSO Weather. Every time he posted something new, he got more followers chiming in or asking questions about his findings.
What started as an amusing distraction, has grown to a devoted community of almost 3,000 followers. All of the reviews and comments are shout-outs for how “WeatherMAX™” is trusty and on-point.
Weisenfeld continues to update the page regularly, especially when there is a major storm front coming towards us. He doesn’t have time to do more than that right now: As his children got older, Weisenfeld has gotten increasingly busy himself. He currently teaches two classes and serves as president of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange. Not to mention that he has one kid finishing college, another in Brooklyn – and he does all the cooking at home.
Whether he updates his page weekly or hourly though, Weisenfeld receives notes of thanks and appreciation, proof that there’s a larger purpose to what he is doing. As he writes on his page, “Now more than ever, with science under attack at the federal level, please support your National Weather Service. Please refer to the NWS for up-to-date information on watches and warnings and take them seriously.”
It’s true, Weisenfeld says. The NWS is providing vital information and we cannot ignore the impact of these storms, which are getting more and more extreme as the global temperatures continue to rise.
Though he’s careful not to use this platform for political purposes, the message is clear. We have to stay alert and make a concerted effort to find out the facts and share them. In the case of weather, it can mean the difference between life and death. As we speak, Weisenfeld points to the lack of hurricane relief aid in Puerto Rico and the sections of Mexico Beach, Florida that are still without electricity.
When I ask him whether he has plans to expand this service, he’s clear that this is not on his agenda. Weisenfeld loves this community, especially how it continues to grow and develop. As he says, “It’s a community that really tries to make itself better.” And it’s clear from spending just a few minutes with him that Weisenfeld is part of that forward progress.
From the azaleas blooming by his walkway to the next storm circling on his radar map, this is a man who is fascinated by science and all that we can possibly learn from it. And his only goal is to share that knowledge so we can all be informed.
Abby Sher is a writer, performer and mom who lives in Maplewood, NJ. She is a co-producer of the Chucklepatch Comedy Show and her next book is due out in February 2020.