Weather or not

Photojournalists are used to working in all kinds weather conditions and, from heat waves to rainstorms and we’re usually prepared for them. But there are sometimes that we can be caught off guard.

Last Wednesday, I was assigned to cover the Stockton Pro Open tennis tournament at the University of the Pacific’s Eve Zimmerman Tennis Complex. I shot top-seeded Madison Brengle who played Norway’s Ulrikke Eikeri in a women’s singles match. The match after that featured Mari Osaka, sister of U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka, against Maria Sanchez.

It was a beautiful day with the noontime sun shining through just a few high clouds overhead. I don’t know what the temperature was but it felt like it was about the mid-80s. There was a forecast of a possibility of showers but for much later in the day. I was dressed in my usual attire a button-down shirt and slacks, plus I had a wide-brimmed hat with a mesh top to me keep cool from the sun.

Brengle won the first set relatively easily, 6-4. I hadn’t noticed too much, but more clouds had moved in, though it was still warm and mostly sunny. Occasionally a cloud would block the sun for a few minutes and give some relief from the heat, but it would move on and things would heat up again.

In the second set Eikeri fought back and made things interesting. Even more clouds filled the sky and Brengle, who started the match wearing dark glasses, took them off near the end. While Brengle still won, Eikeri made it a very close 7-5, playing hard up until the very last point.

The officials took a very short break between matches then Osaka and Sanchez began to warm. It was then I looked up and saw that the clouds had become darker. Although it’s now he start of fall, we were still having summer-like weather and I thought any rain that might happen will hold off until the end, and at most it would be a light summer sprinkling.

Osaka started the match facing my position in the bleacher area at the end of the court. She won the close first game then she and Sanchez switched sides. It was then I felt a raindrop land on my wrist. A single drop does not a storm make, I thought. Sanchez hit two serves and I felt several more drops fall on me. She was about to hit a third serve when the umpire, who was seated in his high chair with his back to the approaching clouds, stopped play. I looked at the other courts and the officials did the same to their matches.

Now I’ve covered baseball games where they’ve played in rain much heavier than this so I thought these umpires were exercising an undue overabundance of caution. Boy, was I wrong. As the players and officials exited from courts the rain quickly increased, though it still could be called a light sprinkle. I thought about staying in my spot but then I changed my mind and moved to one of several pop-up tents set up for shade for the spectators.

With every step the rain became slightly heavier. I got to a tent along the concourse near the clubhouse. There were about a half dozen other people with me. Then the weather went from a sprinkle to a steady rain. The other tents, along the concourse and the area between courts sheltered spectators, coaches and players alike.

Then the wind began to pick up and the rain increased exponentially. It was as if turned up the volume on the radio from about a 7 or 8 to an 11. The wind began to force the rain sideways. One of the tents blew over onto the courts, sending the people under it scurrying for cover. I looked at the next tent over and most of those people were holding onto it’s metal frame to try and keep it from taking off too. I then that looked around the tent that I was under and only one young man was holding onto it. I reached up to help him out.

As the wind increased and the rains became more horizontal, the tents gave less protection. One by one people made the decision to make a break for it and run to the clubhouse. After a few minutes I looked around again and saw that there only three of us left: the young man, a line judge and myself.

The three of us endured the buffeting until I saw a flash of light in the sky. It was then I decided to abandon ship. I turned to my tent mates and said “sorry fellas, but I’m going to bail.” By the time I stepped out from under the tent the low rumble of thunder reverberated over the courts.

Fortunately, as I ran the wind was to my back so I didn’t have a face full of rain. The clubhouse was about 10 to 15 yards away. By the time I got there my back, from my ankles to my head, were soaked.

In the snack bar area of the clubhouse it was standing room only. People peered out of the garage door-sized opening to see if the storm was abating. Thunder roared several more times and then we could see the dark clouds move off to the northeast of us leaving the light summer shower that I was expecting from the start. About 1/2-inch to 1-inch of standing water covered the courts. Many of the sun umbrellas on the umpires chairs were turned inside-out. Some score keeper placards were in disarray. The remaining matches were postponed until the next day.

There’s unwritten rule about weather photos that states that to get a good weather shot you have to get out into it. Well, I hope mine were good because I was certainly in it, though I wouldn’t want to repeat it anytime soon.

Contact photographer Clifford Oto at (209) 546-8263 or coto@recordnet.com. Follow him at recordnet.com/otoblog

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  • Blog Author

    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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