Matthew Cappucci's "Looking Up", the life of a young adult (Harvard-MIT) weather nerd

The most natural way for me to introduce Matthew Cappucci’s book Looking Up: The True Adventures of a Storm-Chasing Weather Nerd may be to recount a recent travel narrative of my own, in just a bit.

The publication details are: Pegasus Books, ISBN-978-1-63936-201-1, hardcover, 293 pages, 24 pages of color photos   (Amazon SiteStripe link).

For my own experience first:  From May 19-24, I made an American Airlines trip with car rental, unusually expensive due to COVID circumstances [I needed to revive and use my AA miles or lose them] , from home in northern VA (this time out of Reagan) to DFW, and drove up 287 from Forth Worth, thru Wichita Falls eventually to Amarillo, then through the Oklahoma Panhandle to see Black Mesa, then through NE New Mexico past the volcano stubs, to Trinidad CO, where we had snow flurries Saturday night May 21.  Then I took US 160 back to Kansas, went through Greensburg (which had a terrific tornado in 2007), stayed in Wichita, then headed down I-35 to return to Dallas.  On the way down, I ran in to someone significant at a stop, total coincidence, then witnessed the eastern edge of a storm, drove through torrential rains from a warm front, ate at a Waffle House in Moore, OK (the most exposed town in the nation to high end tornadoes), visited the Arbuckle mountains (there is a zip line which I did not try), then back to Dallas, to the same Comfort inn at Loop 12 and 35E, with a Waffle House next to the property, that I stayed the first night.   Trouble is, Comfort Inns offer their own complete breakfasts for free, which you can’t beat.  (That's why I usually book them.)   I did get to the Waffle House late when it was open only for takeout, and the items were greasy.  I had to drive to a RaceTrac (like a Wawa) two blocks away to find healthier foods (delicious yogurt/fruit dessert combos).

Now I love to name specific streets in Dallas, having lived there nine years in the 80s, in areas varying from Cedar Springs to Park Lane (north Dallas) to Lake June (Pleasant Grove).  There is no numeric/alphabetic system for naming streets in Texas Cities, like there is in Salt Lake City, or Washington DC or NYC for that matter.  Cappucci mentions Richardson, known for its school district (it's post segregation but 'de facto' and would prompt discussions of anti-racism) – Plano (where EDS lives) is even fancier.  I worked for credit reporting company Chilton in Oak Lawn, but now (after two mergers) it is Experian, 25 miles north on US 175 in McKinney. Really, I was all over the state the years I lived there and have returned numerous times.  The fact that the politics have gone to shreds is a tragedy.

The lifestyle there was good in the 80s with Reagan, but we saw the catastrophe with the power grid there in February 2021.  Even with climate change, the state has its blue northers. I might have moved back in 2017 and gone through this.

Now, during that weekend, Matthew was chasing storms up north, then headed down I-35 to Texas.  For part of the weekend, it seemed like he was always on a tether  about 300 miles long.  While I was driving I-35 in OK and witnessed the eastern edge of a huge storm, he was heading out to Lubbock for Monday night’s tornado outbreak, which materialized (post book publication) from the same storm.  

I also wanted to note the isolation of the US 160 drive back to Kansas, with only a few tiny towns, and no cell service in some parts, on Sunday morning.  If you break down, you’d better be handy with changing tires, etc., which I am not, even with rentals.  I want Matthew to do the US 160 drive on a future trip.

Now, for the book.  Cappucci provides no table of contents or index, and does not even number the chapters!  I counted 29 of them (varying greatly in length).  He was mystified that I thought this was unusual for a book. 

The writing style is detailed as to autobiography.  His career at Harvard (crossover to MIT) was indeed unusual for an undergraduate, as he was allowed to design his own curriculum, and a lot if included storm chasing and then international travel.  He winds up taking the reader to Chile (the observatory, although he misses some of the desert, he gets to see some of the controversial pre-Inca culture), then to Vietnam (still communist but open), where he bought some shirts!, then  Alaska.

In fact, I visited Hawaii (Oahu, Maui, and Big Island) and drove up one volcano on Maui, then Alaska, on a Braniff (extinct) triangle fare in 1980 and got as far as the slopes of McKinley on private plane, but not to Fairbanks (I ran around with another passenger – an attorney I met on the plane -- who had rented a car and I would have gone if I had one more day).  I did see a coastal glacier park.   On the way home, I got to fly over Mt. St, Helens, which had erupted three months before. (I also drove there in a rental on another trip in 1990).  (On Big Island, you can drive Mauna Loa only on a 4-wheel drive truck, not a normal rental vehicle.)

Matthew’s travels (not exactly Gulliver’s of Jonathan Swift, there are no Lilliputians in Matthew’s life) settle down near the end of the book as he describes the paradoxes of his job search, and how he wound up writing weather columns for the Washington Post and working for Fox5DC. He offers many side stories, like his first airplane parachute jump (an instructor is tethered to the customer -- several YouTube celebrities I know did this, even for 18th birthday ritual; a bartender whom I know is trying to become an instructor in VA, and Fox News international correspondent Trey Yingst regularly "jumps out of planes", in Israel. )

A reader could well visit the YouTube channel of recent Harvard graduate John Fish, for comparison to another interesting experience of a Harvard undergraduate (including a “D1 Story” which is important on its own right for college sports and freedom of speech). . 

It’s pretty easy to imagine a film based on the book.  It would be logical, say, for National Geographic Documentaries be interested.   

I will say that Matthew is always non-political (which is good behavior on a station with conservative ties).  In his columns, he does describe how the intensity of some storms (especially torrential rainfalls and floods, v. extreme droughts) relates to human-induced climate change, all the way back to Al Gore’s 'An Inconvenient Truth' (2005).  But at the books-signing party at Old Town Books in Alexandria VA last night, he suggested that there be some 'winners' from global warming, mainly civilizations farther from the Equator and at higher altitudes.  Civilization as a whole will eventually adapt. I would note that some of the most severe heat waves have occurred very distant from the Equator (like the heat wave in British Columbia around the time of the summer solstice in June 2021, or most recently in western Europe and the UK in July 2022;  Russia had a heat wave in August 2010;  Heat waves in Siberia, melting permafrost, could release methane and accelerate climate change).

Indeed, on a general level, many other Internet columnists will disagree, that the world can adjust, without revolutionary technological change on the one hand, or enormous individual lifestyle privations on the other (or both).  Yup, look how protestors (like Xtinction Rebellion, sometimes filmed by Ford Fischer on his News2Share channel)  epoxy-glue themselves to highways and get arrested;  they think it takes that self-sacrifice for future generations (or their own).  In fact, even with the 'easiest' outcomes,  many regions of the planet will be severely displaced and migrate; moreover, authoritarian political leaders are likely to return to hyper-nationalism and conquer and obliterate other people's so as not to have to share the world’s likely dwindling resources with them.  Vladimir Putin's recent (irredentist) behavior provides a template.  There could be incentives to destroy the infrastructures of competing countries with EMP pulse attacks, short of nuclear war.  So this possibility, along with the fact that our discussion of climate change hasn't paid enough attention to space weather (the possibility of another Carrington event, which we barely missed in 2012) would get a lot attention in any new book by me (if it were non-fiction).  What I plan, actually, is fiction, but I'm wandering off track.

I spoke earlier about the 'parts of a book' and chapter and section numbers, and the like.  My own three DADT books have them galore.  In the third book (2014) I experimented by dividing the book into 'non-fiction' and 'fiction' (the latter offering two indirectly connected short stories), but in the autobiographical chapters I usually start with very vivid detail about what will turn out to be a significant (maybe life-changing) incident, say leading to a story-circle revolution.  I will tend to venture then into philosophical, legal or moral interpretation.  Here, Cappucci will follow up on vivid travel details with descriptions of the science behind violent storms, or, toward the end, the way the television and weather forecasting job markets behave.   Sometimes, like around p. 169, he gets into why planetary climate is changing.

I note a humorous parallel between the book title 'Looking Up' and the Netflix movie 'Don't Look Up'. Will Netflix or Hulu look at this book>

(Posted: Wednesday, August 10, 2022 at 3 PM EDT by John W. Boushka)