July 4, 2010

'Weather wizard' a fixture at annual event

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

COPLIN PLANTATION -- Storm Waters hasn't missed a Round River Rendezvous in 17 years, and the other environmental activists behind the Earth First! movement are better off because of it.

click image to enlarge

WEATHERMAN: Storm Waters stands by the banks of the Dead River where environmental activists from Earth First! are meeting this week. They rely on Waters for information about the weather.

Staff photo by Leslie Bridgers

Waters calls himself the weather wizard. With a master's degree in meteorology, he's the go-to guy when it comes to climate.

And that's an important factor to consider for the hundreds of activists who camp out for up to a week at the annual Earth First! meeting.

This year's Round River Rendezvous is at a site in the Boundary Mountains in western Maine. Activists from around the country started gathering there Tuesday and will leave at beginning of the week. Event organizer Meg Gilmartin said she expected a few hundred people to be there this weekend.

Gilmartin said she told people before the event to be prepared for any kind of weather, from scorching heat to snow. But, she said, with groups spread out in the fields and forest, it's also important to let them know what's happening now.

"That's where Storm comes in," she said.

Waters' work with the Earth First! movement has a lot to do with his interest in weather, particularly the connection between deforestation and climate change.

To boost his clout as a an advocate for land conservation, Waters said he'd like to get a doctorate someday. But he won't go back to academia for good.

"This is where the real work is," he said.

Waters, 49, is technically a transient. People he knows help him out with places to stay, and he picks up odd jobs painting or landscaping when he can find them.

"I go where the action is," he said.

During the past couple of years, that's mostly been Maine. A longtime opponent of timber company Plum Creek, Waters has been fighting its plan for a massive housing development on Moosehead Lake.

But he first became interested in the weather as a kid growing up in south Chicago.

"That's your only connection with nature," Waters said about living in the city.

He said he went on to earn a bachelor of science degree in meteorology from Purdue University in Indiana and a master's from Texas Tech.

But Waters wasn't interested in the office and classroom jobs most meterologists fell into, he said. He wanted to be out in the field.

"I was one of the earlier storm chasers before Hollywood started making cheesy movies about it," he said.

On a whim, Waters said, he joined the Peace Corps and started teaching in Sierra Leone. Between classes, he explored the African bush and rainforests and ended up meeting people from indigenous tribes.

He said they told him about how the weather patterns had changed since corporations had come in and started clear-cutting the rainforests.

"The scales fell from my eyes, and I really saw," said Waters.

Since then, he said, he's made a career out of fighting for the conservation of the land. Traveling the United States, Waters has watched weather patterns and talked to native tribes about what they've observed.

"We do not rule the web of life, but are one strand in it. What we do to the web, we do to ourselves," he said.

Though Waters calls himself a wizard, he says he has no supernatural gift for predicting the weather.

"I'm not going to claim I'm one of these people who can look at the sky and tell you everything," he said. "Sometimes it feels like every time I open my mouth, the opposite happens."

During the annual Earth First! gathering, Waters said he uses reports from local newspapers and a weather radio to keep tabs on what's coming. He gives an update during the group's daily meeting, called morning circle.

About 50 people attended that meeting Wednesday morning. Waters told them he had noticed that people had set up their tents in a field behind the main camp. He advised them to move by the riverbank where they would be protected from lightning.

"Storms have a habit of hopping over that ridge really quickly," he told them.

Leslie Bridgers -- 861-9252

lbridgers@centralmaine.com

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