Craig Allen said he remembers when the sound of rolling thunder and the crack and flash of lightning would make him curl up in his childhood bedroom, frightened by the approaching storm. Now, he said, he prays for the rain.
When his appeals aren’t answered, he takes a short drive from his home on Clubhouse Road to a triangular garden patch at the intersection of Clubhouse and Merrick Road, which is maintained by the South Merrick Community Civic Association. On these trips, he pulls an adapter from the trunk of his car and attaches it to a ground spigot, turning it on to water the flowers there.
“My two favorite things outside of weather are gardening and hockey,” said Allen, noting his devotion to the New York Islanders. “I have no free time, yet I find some free time to help them out.”
On Monday, the civic association will honor Allen, a meteorologist for WCBS 880 and PIX11 TV, with a community service award. For the past six years, Allen has worked with the organization’s president, Joe Baker, to beautify the plot, transforming it from weed-ridden blacktop to a colorful garden.
“The garden is one of the main entrances to South Merrick, and it’s been enhanced due to his volunteering,” Baker said of Allen. “He’s there almost daily, watering, pulling weeds and planting flowers, and in doing so he’s become a good friend of the civics and the community.”
Allen, 62, has lived in Merrick since 1992. Pitching in for the association is his way of helping make the community look as “beautiful as it was” when he first moved there, he said. He keeps a watchful eye for both aesthetic and professional reasons, often taking his portable Comrex Access unit on drives to chase nearby storms or watch the rising tides. The device allows him to report weather events to WCBS 880 from almost anywhere, including his home office.
On a typical day, if the weather is “quiet,” Allen wakes up at 4:30 a.m. to prepare for the morning shift. He shuffles down to the basement to his office, which is lined with soundproof foam panels. On one unpadded wall is a trio of digital barometers that display information from the weather reader on Allen’s roof. He scans atmospheric data from multiple maps on one computer before typing out the day’s forecast on another. Headsets, microphones, weather manuals, decorative hurricane lanterns and souvenir lighthouses complete the cache.
Allen erected the home office to avoid commuting to the city between his “split shifts.” His forecasts can be heard on the radio every weekday morning from 5 to 10 a.m. and evenings from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. “on the eights.”
“He’s very busy with that schedule,” Baker said, “but still finds time to help us at the civic.”
Allen received his first piece of radio equipment from his grandparents when he was 12, around the same time his fear of the weather evolved into a fascination. Living in Massapequa at the time, he reported his weather findings to Bob Harris, the meteorologist for WOR 710 from 1970 to 1977.
He forecast for smaller stations in high school and college as part of a two-man “weather team” alongside Pat Pagano, the meteorologist at WALK 97.5. Allen studied earth and space sciences at Stony Brook University — at the time, the meteorology program was in its infancy — before becoming chief meteorologist at WCBS in 1981. The station broadcasts to the tristate area, with a weekly listenership of 1.4 million people.
Allen has worked for the station for nearly 40 years, crafting his forecasts based on gut instincts and relatability. “The worst part about [comparing different maps is] they all come out with different information — you then have to use your gut,” he said. “I put myself in [the listeners’] position, and think of the times I’ve been at the Merrick train station and what it’s like in the wind and rain, or driving on the road in heavy snowfall.”
Forecasting Hurricane Sandy, however, was a different story. “How do you tell people, ‘I’m looking at something that I’ve never seen before’ without scaring them?” Allen said. He was broadcasting from his home the night of the storm, staying until the water came up from the sewers.
“Once we had it in our heads that this was going to happen, we had to try to give safety tips for something people have never known before,” he explained. “People who had been listening to us the whole time said we saved their lives. There is no better feeling than that.”
Allen received a New York Emmy Award for PIX11’s coverage of Hurricane Sandy. He has also received New York Associated Press awards and an NAB Marconi Radio Award for his work on WCBS 880. He will receive his award from the civic association at its general meeting on Monday at 7 p.m. at the Merrick Golf Clubhouse, at 2550 Clubhouse Road. Residents are welcome to attend.