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Welcome to my story!

 

Welcome! My name is Elise Johnson and I'm excited that you have stopped by to visit my site. I'm currently a graduate student at the University of Alabama in Huntsville working on my Master's degree in Atmospheric Science. I should be finishing this summer and then starting my PhD work this fall. I earned my B.S. degree from Iowa State University in 2006.

I grew up on our family farm in east central Minnesota where weather was an integral part of our lives. Over the years we have raised dairy cattle, goats, sheep, and 4-H pigs on our farm. The farm was the perfect country setting for a carefree childhood of riding bikes down the field roads and exploring the woods with my brothers and sisters.  

My passion for weather started before I can even remember.  As a toddler, we had a scare when a storm developed fast and formed a small tornado that hit the farm causing minor damage and severely rocking the small mobile home we lived in when my grandparents still lived in the big farm house.   My parents tell me that around the age of four I told them that I wanted to study the weather and get my doctorate.  I wanted to become a meteorologist even though I couldn't say the word correctly.  I also wanted to meet every TV meteorologist every chance I got. Each year at the MN State Fair I would get my picture with a different meteorologist.

Here I am 20+ years later, a meteorologist and studying towards my doctorate.  It has been a long road filled with events to keep me on my path to study weather.  For the most part, we had rain that would mess up haying for a few days and strong storms that would send my family to the basement (which Mom had ingrained in us very well) and myself to the porch but that is just typical Midwest weather.   On June 15, 1998 all of that would change. 

It was a typical early summer day with temperatures warming up nicely into the upper 70s and increasing cumulus clouds throughout the day. The 1st crop of hay was partly cut and the fields that remained waved in the afternoon breeze. A typical picturesque scene of the country in June.  By late afternoon, we became aware of storms forming to our east moving generally westward which is not typical.  A hay customer in Wisconsin called warning us of 1 1/4" hail and damaging winds with the storms.  My family had satellite television at the time so we stayed tuned to the Weather Channel for the latest.  As with all bad storms that rolled through all five of us kids would grab our cherished stuffed animals, blankets and pillow and bring it with us to the basement to play toys until the storms past.  My parents and I watched the intense part of the storms roll through with little cause to worry.  I had the video camera around my neck the whole time ready to hit the record button with the hope of seeing some "interesting" weather. But all that was happening was heavy rain with a typical thunderstorm.

At about 9:35pm, it wasn't the tornado I had been hoping for that came.  Instead a -100+ kA lightning strike hit our home where the front porch roof met the second floor; right where an outlet was placed in my bedroom.  The thunder was immediate and was felt along with the sound of what is best described as thousands of light bulbs breaking in one's ears. The smell of smoke instantly hit me.  Dad ran upstairs to find that a fire had started immediately in the wall of my room.  The rest of the night was more or less a blur of rain soaked tears and fire truck lights flashing with the distant sound of rolling thunder as the storms moved on. 

Morning light exposed a family's life shaken up. The house still stood but the scars were clear to all who slowed down their cars to gawk at charred cedar siding.  My bedroom, the rafters of the front porch, and one of the living room walls were burnt.  My bedroom was littered with the charred remains of my childhood.  One strange finding from my remaining possessions was a poster I had used for a 4-H demonstration a year prior.  Every chance I got in 4-H or school, I would talk about weather and so I had done a presentation on lightning called "Simply Shocking."  As you can see below, some of the ashes from the fire landed on the poster causing it to burn right at the top of the lightning bolt. Accident? Coincident? You are open to have your own opinion on it.  For me, this was a clear sign that this event happened for a reason.  And thus, my passion for finding the secrets behind lightning to help save others from experiencing what my family went through began.

 

The poster that was in my room when lightning hit my family's home and the namesake for my website.

 

 

 

It's been almost 10 years now since my family's home was struck and my family still living on the farm are still facing the pain on a daily basis. With financial struggles stemming from the fire and previously from my mother's battle with cancer and continuing medical needs, my family has yet to live in a real house again.  For the first four months after the fire, the seven of us (kids ages 4-14) lived in a 37 foot travel trailer.  When Minnesota winter started to make itself known, we were able to find two used mobile homes to fit all of us. They were meant to be "temporary" living conditions until we were able to fix the house to move back in. With the high cost to fix the house that burned due to its age and health concerns from the molds growing thanks to the 3400 gallons of water used to douse the flames, my family made the decision to go forward with building a new log home that would fit all of us, have room for my mother's craft business, and be a healthy home that wouldn't contain mold residue or other health hazards found in some new construction materials.  

The building of our home has been slow.  Every log has been lain with love by my parents and siblings. The need to hold other jobs for an income to cover daily living expenses and other bills cuts down on the time to build. The harsh Minnesota winters and hot summers also makes good building days even more scarce.  But we are still hopeful that our home will be finished one day for all us to enjoy.  If you'd like to see pictures of the construction of the log house, check this out.

To finish off, there is one more part to my story that makes my passion for weather even stronger and my goal for becoming a meteorologist even sweeter.  At the age of 12, a class assignment/local contest required each student to interview a grandparent or other elderly person and write an essay.  My mother encourage me to interview my grandfather, her father, since none of the other grandchildren had ever done so for the project.  We called Grandpa up the night before the paper was due and I interviewed him.  As I hung up the phone I didn't know what to think.  In the conversation, my mother and I had learned that Grandpa had wanted to be a meteorologist when he graduated high school but because of WWII he had to stay home on the family farm and that is what he did for the rest of his life.  When I read my 1st place story at the awards luncheon with Grandpa in the audience, I saw tears in his eyes when I finished with "someday I'll tell him what its like being a meteorologist."

Time played its hand when 10 years ago, four months before the house was hit by lightning, Grandpa left this world. His body had lost its battle with cancer. Days before he died, he told me one night when I was feeling down, "Don't ever let anyone tell you what to do. Do what you really want to do." On the morning of February 10, 1998, I woke up knowing that Grandpa had died and with the vision of me reading the same essay in front of family and friends at his funeral. Moments later mom walked in confirming my dream and asking if I would be willing to read the essay. I did read the essay and remained strong until the last line, "Someday I will tell him what its like being a meteorologist."  I am now not only living my dreams but my grandfather's as well.

My story is what drives me to find the secrets behind lightning and severe storms and find ways to predict them in order to give people more warning to protect themselves.  I also believe it is very important to provide people the knowledge about weather in order for them to practice effective weather safety measures. I enjoy sharing my story with children and hearing how they have gone home and discussed weather safety with their family. 

Each day I continue to live my passion and further build on my story.

 

 

 

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This site was last updated 05/10/08