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This column is high in potassium

Andrew Freedman @ 11:40 AM

"I found your address while picking bananas."

That was the first line of the letter that has tormented me for five years. Addressed to the NOAA National Weather Service Office of Public Affairs in Silver Spring, Maryland, its only return address information was a country: "Ghana." As the public affairs assistant in the office at the time who helped distribute the mail, I read further.

Writing in broken English, the sender requested that the U.S. government send him meteorological textbooks to further his agricultural studies in Ghana. It appeared, from his writing in capital letters, to be a matter of life or death. Yet how could I reach him? I envisioned roaming through dusty African villages searching for the would-be farmer desperate for meteorological knowledge.

Dan Stillman's Forecast

Forecast Confidence: High-Very HighToday: As high pressure builds in behind the overnight showers, some early-morning clouds will quickly give way to blue skies and bright sunshine. It'll be a breezy, pleasant day with highs 55-60.
Tonight: Clear and cool with calm winds. Lows 30-35 in town, 25-30 in the burbs.
Tomorrow: Sunny early, then increasing clouds in the afternoon. After a crisp start, highs should approach 60.

A detailed week ahead forecast will appear tomorrow.

I quickly cut my travel planning short when I thought of the first line again. The writer found the address that corresponded to my particular cubicle on the upper floors of a compound in Silver Spring housing a sprawling government agency, while he was picking bananas in Africa?

Globalization arrived for Andrew Freedman that day.

I went through my list of friends who were banana pickers, which was none. Then I perused my roster of friends or contacts who have been to Ghana, again coming up empty. I feared I would have a stroke from the utter incomprehensibility of the statement.

I thought about God and the meaning of life, and how a string of global events needed to happen one after the other in an intricately ordered way to generate that letter and get it to my desk.

The theory that I settled on to explain the mailing is a bit of a stretch. It involves a weather balloon that must have drifted across the Atlantic after being launched in the eastern U.S. and being blown across the Atlantic by high altitude westerlies. Or perhaps it was launched by a NOAA ship in the Atlantic, thereby shortening the distance it needed to travel to reach Africa.

Once it crossed over Africa it popped like a party balloon (though it's a miracle this hadn't happened earlier in its journey), and its remains including the instrument package landed in this man's field on a day when he was picking bananas.

Let's say it was a Thursday.

The address on the instrument package was the NWS public affairs office, although I never received a single instrument package from anyone else during my yearlong stint.

The young man who wrote to me must be an adult now. He's likely destitute due to the absence of the proper educational materials he needed to do his job. He no doubt has grown resentful of the United States, like many across the world.

If only I had made more of an effort to reach him. I should have persuaded the NOAA hurricane hunters to undertake a humanitarian mission and drop books over Ghana. Instead I've wasted years thinking about the letter, long after I left NOAA.

I remember most jobs I've had not for the skills I learned or the friendships I gained, but rather for the random experiences I had. Yes, NOAA taught me how to write press releases and interact with professional meteorologists, among other valuable skills. But it also gave me the gift/curse of the Ghana dispatch as well as a series of frantic afternoon phone calls from people in Miami, Florida who were concerned about a "ring" around the sun.

There was also a phone call from a frightened woman who never gave their geographical location but nevertheless asked me: "can I get out of the basement now?"

"That depends on why you are in the basement, ma'am," I said with all of the assumed authority of a 23-year-old government worker.

A key job criteria should be the amount of random stories you might generate while in the position. In that regard, I highly recommend working in the weather community, and at NOAA in particular.

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