Tropical Storm Beta was drizzling on Houston when Denise Lanza noticed she was having regular contractions.
This scenario had been in the back of her mind. Denise, a biological scientist, is married to Matt Lanza, a meteorologist who writes for Space City Weather, a go-to source for the region, especially during storms.
The couple learned in January that they would be having a second child — due in September. Matt felt excited hearing the news, then realized: “Oh, of course, we’re going to have a baby due right at the peak of hurricane season.”
And what a hurricane season it had been. Hurricane Hanna hit Padre Island in July. Hurricane Laura barely missed Houston in August. Planning to name their son Theodore, Matt never imagined Hurricane Teddy would form by September.
Yet already, the National Hurricane Center had identified so many storms that, for the first time since 2005, it was using the Greek alphabet to name them.
During Laura, the Lanzas stayed with Denise’s parents west of Houston, just in case. But Denise, 36, was trying to downplay Beta. She went for a morning walk, which she thought caused the contractions she now felt.
She was scheduled for a cesarean section in three days.
This is not labor, she thought. I’m fine.
Matt, 38, who works by day as an energy industry meteorologist, was posting frequent storm updates for Space City Weather. He shared the workload with Eric Berger, senior space editor at Ars Technica, who started the Space City Weather site after leaving the Houston Chronicle.
Initially, the blog for Matt was a side gig. Then their straightforward, levelheaded updates during Hurricane Harvey drew some 4 million site visits. Houstonians counted on them during crises — a responsibility Matt and Berger felt.
Harvey changed Matt’s personal perspective, too. Awe of weather’s power inspired him to become a meteorologist, but Harvey made him dread the impacts storms could have on peoples’ lives. He grew to hate them, and now another was coming.
Denise, as her contractions continued, tried to stay calm. While Matt could envision every sort of disaster, Denise aimed to be a sounding board, advising him to focus on how to help with the skills he had. They ate dinner together even if he worked 18 hours.
The pair, from New Jersey, met during college through a mutual friend. They shared in their nerdiness, Denise says. He was a self-proclaimed “weather weenie.” She got a Ph.D. in biomedical science. While they dated, she learned to spot storms for the National Weather Service.
Their wedding day brought “chamber of commerce weather,” as Matt calls it — weather so good one wishes out-of-town folks would visit. They arrived in Houston in 2012, and Tropical Storm Bill hit while they moved homes in 2015. But no storm threatened their first son’s birth in July 2018.
As Sunday wore on, Denise began timing her contractions. Matt, who had another update to write, found her frazzled after the pain of one.
She called the doctor’s office while he worked a bit more.
Finally, she told him: “We’ve got to go.”
Suddenly, the storm wasn’t the most pressing thing. Matt called Berger to ask if he could finish the 9 p.m. update.
Berger, 47, felt excited for his colleague, though he had thought storm season would be winding down by the baby’s birth. He knew Matt loved being a dad.
Matt typed out an end note: “I’m about to become a father for the second time.” Berger, a dad too, prepared for what would be long days as his own home was pounded by rain.
For now, rain fell lightly as Matt drove Deniseto the hospital. He wondered which would come first: Beta’s landfall or the baby.
At 10:53 p.m., Theodore Kelvin Lanza was born, easily beating Beta.
Matt took him to a waiting room with no idea what the weather was like; the room had no windows. All was well.
“Despite all the chaos around us,” he said later, “the important stuff worked out just fine.”
It’s a story they will tell their son when he’s older, Denise said: “Yeah, you were born during a tropical storm.”