Beau Dodson was a senior in high school in 1988. Along with parents Judy and Dean Dodson, Beau lived there with his sisters Deena (Crouch) and Dione (Stanford). Dean Dodson had built the house in 1972. He sold fertilizer and farm chemicals. When the farm crunch hit southern Illinois, local farmers' losses created a domino effect that resulted in his business going under. After generations of J.H. Verbarg's descendants living on that hill, the family moved to town to Metropolis. The Mermet Road farm sold at the courthouse steps.
With the move, life changed drastically for Beau Dodson. Growing up on that hill, he had developed a love for nature, especially the weather.
"I love weather!" Dodson said. "The atmosphere fascinates me. I am driven to try and understand what makes it work. I have been studying weather since I was 8 years old. It is a passion. It is in my blood.
"This passion is difficult to explain. The sound of thunder, the wind rustling the leaves in the trees. The first snowflakes of winter, the first rainbow of spring. Watching the billowing cumulus clouds on a warm summer's day. Waiting for that first clap of thunder. The pitter patter of raindrops outside my window."
Playfully, Dodson added, "Anyone from my grade school or high school will tell you I've always been into weather. When I would get into trouble my parents used to ground me from watching the weather: 'No more Cal Sisto for you!'"
Years passed. Like the weather Beau's life experienced sunny days and turbulent storms — losses of loved ones, depression and struggles with alcoholism. Dodson said, "Being in the middle of depression is like being in the middle of a hurricane. You can't see beyond the hour." The four winds blew him from Atlanta to Mexico to Canada. Then in May 2003 a meteorological event occurred that convinced him that it was time for him to come back home. From Toronto he watched the weather map as a massive tornado moved across southern Illinois. Desperately, he stayed on the phone with his mother for four hours as the wind left a path of destruction all around her.
He came home determined to clean up his life as he helped clean up the mess from the tornado's path. His first project was the Shadow Angel Foundation (shadowangelfoundation.org). This organization sent teddy bears "Storm Bears" to all pre-K through second grade children who were storm victims from Pulaski, Massac and Pope counties. Along with the bears were packets of information to help kids cope after the storm.
"I am a strong believer in the philosophy of pay-it-forward. My grandmother always helped everybody. She was always there. She inspired me a lot," he said as he explained his enthusiasm for volunteer work. The Shadow Angel Foundation has since given away hundreds of bears to victimized children through Child Watch at Purchase Area Sexual Assault and Child Advocacy. With the help of The Metropolis Planet and several volunteers, Dodson and friend David Crouch commissioned "Terror In The Night," a fundraiser book that tells the stories of the tornado and some of those in its path. He also started a program in which he gave away a weather radio every day on WPSD-TV.
In addition to his volunteer interests, he and his brother-in-law, Tony Crouch, began to buy apartment buildings and formed NHD Properties. His occupation of overseeing the rentals allowed the freedom to pursue his interest in weather and work toward a three-year degree in meteorology. He graduated from Mississippi State University, where he had enrolled in the broadcast meteorology program to earn a bachelor of science.
In spite of fulfillment found in his work and meteorology, Dodson still had an emptiness that had never gone away after the family lost its farm. Dodson occasionally visited the homeplace.
"Being there helped me to think. It was where I had grown up. It was literally my roots," he said. After driving there one day in 2006, Dodson wrote in his journal: "We passed the old hill that I used to live on. The farm. I miss that place. I know that I can never go back there, but I have to admit that I dream about it all the time. I dream about running around the fields. Playing in the hay loft. Watching the fireflies flicker in the tall grass. Snow! A lot of firsts happened up on that hill. The good and the bad. Memories. Lots of memories. It was all very surreal."
Christmas Day 2007 he again drove by his family's homeplace. "I couldn't get it out of my head. I wanted to again see the view from that hill. I noticed that the house had a Realtor's lockbox on the door. It was an indescribable feeling." He immediately began to investigate the property. He learned that the owners had let it go back to the bank. It was auctioned again at the courthouse steps with no bidders.
On Mothers' Day 2008, he, along with his sisters and their families, invited his mother to go to the old homeplace to dig flowers from the yard. His mother Judy said, "I went over to a clump of flowers to dig. There was a rolled-up piece of paper lying in the flowers. I picked it up, unrolled it and read on the long banner: 'WELCOME HOME, MOTHER.'" She added, "I thought it odd that every member of my family was here. I started bawling. Beau had bought back my family's farm."
Deciding the old house was too far gone, bulldozers pushed it over and workers began excavation for a new house. Dodson sketched the plans, which included a tornado shelter, a library, a weather room, and a family room on the third floor. Architect Don Riley drew up the final plans. Tony Crouch and Clapp Construction and R&D Construction built the house, which took a year. They moved the week of Christmas 2009.
Dodson's home, The Weather Observatory, is a three-story edifice topped with a widow's walk. Because it rests on top of an extremely high hill, his view goes even to the Ohio River on favorable days. On top of the widow's walk he can watch the weather coming from all directions. Also on top of the house are weather instruments. Behind the house are solar panels for electricity production, thermometers and wind speed anemometers that are tied into an internal stream weather program.
The second-floor family room beams and ceiling are wood extracted from a peanut factory in Georgia. Mike Odell of Harvest Lumber is credited for this project.
Local interior decorator Bill Ford took charge in helping Dodson decorate The Weather Observatory.
"I could not have done this without Bill's help," Dodson said. Throughout the home are local artist Scott Morris' paintings. A shadowbox of American Indian artifacts, arrowheads, spears, etc. that Dodson collected from the farm hangs in the living room.
The third floor is the weather observatory. Beau uses a number of computers and monitors to cover the weather — including monitors to watch the local ABC, NBC and CBS affiliates. All of those weather instruments are streamed online so you can monitor temperatures, barometric pressure, rainfall totals, wind, wind direction and humidity.
Dodson covers weather for emergency management for some western Kentucky counties, including McCracken. He also helps the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet during bigger events, such as winter storms and severe weather outbreaks.
During periods of severe weather he has radio contact with emergency management and is in constant contact with local media and the National Weather Service offices in the region. From this room he puts out a video of hazardous weather outlook three times a week. See his webpage at weatherobservatory.com/weather-video.htm or his blog at weatherobservatory.blogspot.com
He also has an e-mail list that he sends out to a number of schools and local residents and emergency management/fire/police/other during periods of severe weather.
From Beau's blog
"I have been chasing storms since I was a teenager. There is something about the overpowering, awe inspiring, and surreal feeling of being in the shadow of a Cumulonimbus Cloud. The towering white and gray clouds...overshooting tops...distant lightning bolts. Standing in the country, feeling the warm sumer breeze, smell of distant rain, and listening to the rumble of thunder. It makes you feel so small. A reminder that something or someone else is in control. I know many of you reading this know exactly what I am talking about. It can't be explained to those who fear the weather. It can't be explained to those who have witnessed the terror that storms can bring. Perhaps it is a passion to want to understand that which we fear. To understand that which is bigger than anything mankind can make or tame. Whether it is a snowstorm, a tropical storm, or a cyclone...it doesn't matter. The passion remains the same. Chasing is just an extension of that passion. Photographing Mother Nature at her best and worst."The Weather Observatory's floors are unique. Tobacco barns from Graves and Trigg County were torn down and the lumber was planed into planks for the floors. The lustrously finished planks vary from 4 to 8 inches wide.
Correction - June 2011: In the May-June Posh magazine, the story “By the Old Oak Tree” failed to mention that the property Beau Dodson’s family homeplace belongs to local Massac County farmer Lynn Loverkamp, who is a long-time family friend of the Dodson family. Loverkamp purchased the farm property and currently owns and farms the fields surrounding the Weather Observatory and Beau’s house.