A few times in ones life one meets a person who can be described as a true guiding force. For me, Al Moller is one of those. 8 May, 1992 – I walked into the old Fort Worth NWS office and asked for Al.
A few days earlier, on my first visit to the FO, I had mentioned that I was interested in music and was planning to go to Austin for the weekend, as it looked like there would be no Weather – at least for the next little while.
They said I needed to come back and meet this guy Al! Though I had been subscribing to StormTrack since 1987 (and had all the back issues), and I had seen his name in there, I didn’t really know who he was and what he had contributed to chasing, spotting, and to all those who knew him.
It didn’t take long to feel his influence. He had been told this chaser from Canada would be coming in, and he greeted me with with a big welcoming smile and handshake and then showed me around the office. His passion for storms was immediately evident: showing me a radar loop of a recent amazing lone supercell down near Marfa/Big Bend and sharing wide-eyed stories of chases.
He also took the time during that first visit to tutor me on Fort Worth BBQ choices (Riskys!), Austin Blues clubs and restaurants (got to see a great Johnny Winter show close up Liberty Lunch that Saturday night), and manual photography tips for newly purchased Pentax ME Super (and I still have the sheet he wrote all these tips on!).
While I was there Al also arranged for me to chase with a fellow NWS Forecaster Bob Kleyla that coming Monday. That first US Plains chase resulted in me seeing my first tornado 30 minutes after I crossed the Oklahoma Border Line for the first time in my life (oh, if it were always that easy). Thanks Al!
I was based with family friends in Bedford, TX, for much of that four-week chase trip, and the other visits with Al were progressively more influential. He emphasised courtesy when visiting NWS offices, being safe and responsible in the field, and the need to give back by providing images and reports to the NWS – basically he imprinted me with the “First Principles” of chasing.
I also learned the value of hand analysis from Al, and even hand-plethed my first surface map in that office on that trip. A great Al moment was on 31 May 1992 (my last chase day of that first trip), I walked into the old Lubbock office and there was Al, CAD III, and Tim, and Carson, and Sam, and Bruce, and not too many more (oh, how things changed over the years that followed). Al’s jaw dropped when he saw me walk in all by myself, clearly pleased to see I had independently determined that was the place to be that day (that was the day that became the story of the Dallas Morning News feature story on Chasers).
Over the years Al continued the mentorship. He took the time to photocopy journal papers of import and mail them to me on a number of occasions, complete with impassioned post-it note reviews: “A Classic!”, “An oldie but a goodie”, etc!! I still have those, and they there were a great help in my journey to understand the forecast problem, the beauty of the atmosphere, and the “Zen” of Chasing.
There were also great email discussions on Texas Music with Al and a little group of Texas friends where Al would suggest many great and obscure Texas artists (and one time inadvertently sent his impassioned response to a wider group of chasers on a email discussion group). Al again had shared his knowledge and passion with an audience larger than he had expected!
As many of the other blog tributes to Al mention, it was always great to run into Al in the field, and I concur! Whether it was on a supercell in South Dakota, sharing a Lunch in a local diner or an old Saloon in New Mexico, watching him and CAD III intellectually wrestle (loudly!) at the Iowa Machine Shed, or have Al come running up to me and CAD III during a Coco Montoya show in Chicago and yell “It’s Buddy Guy!!!” (so me, CAD III, and Al proceeded to run over like little blues crazed kids and introduce ourselves to Buddy).
It was always enlightening and memorable – his passion was everywhere! I don’t know how I could ever repay Al for the guidance, insight, support, and laughs, other than to recognize him for the role model he is and hold to the ideals and methodologies he taught for the rest of my life!