Friday, May 26, 2017


Ah, yes. Here's an article printed in our community magazine this month. The weather is endlessly fascinating to me, not only its apparent quirks and the way it is the ubiquitous topic of casual chitchat, but the way we humans have such a great effect on it. Not that our esteemed president agrees, but, hey...  
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In the late 40’s, cable TV began as a service to bring broadcast content to mountain and rural areas of Arkansas, Oregon and Pennsylvania. A few clever people raised their antennas to great heights and brought the signals down to their TVs. One enterprising appliance dealer, John Watson of Allentown, Pennsylvania, realized he wouldn’t sell any TV sets if the townspeople couldn’t get the signals. Knowing about those high antennas, he put up one of his own on a nearby mountain, and ran a cable down to the town and in to homes where, for an installation fee and a monthly charge, the residents could watch the three broadcast channels, the affiliates of ABC, CBS, and NBC.

The idea spread country-wide, and gradually, cable network operators offered more and more “stations” or “channels.”  Many of us from the bigger cities and their suburbs had little awareness of the cable networks. One cable channel we heard about though, and wished we had, was The Weather Channel. Customarily, in the early days of television, we watched the local weather as a short spot, usually on around 6:20 p.m., on our favorite broadcast channel. Many of us remember Tex Antoine’s “Uncle Wethbee” on WNBC in New York City. As time went on and weather technology advanced, the forecasts became less hit-and-miss, and we could catch the weather on the morning shows, perhaps a lunchtime news report, and always on the dinner hour news.

Tex Antoine and "Uncle Wethbee"

Thinking that many folks would like to know the weather at any time of the day, or all day long, John Coleman, meteorologist and forecaster for ABC’s “Good Morning America,” had the idea for a channel to provide such information. In May of 1982, 35 years ago, The Weather Channel made its first transmission. While many believed it would be short-lived, the channel is still going strong providing forecasts and regularly running documentaries and other weather-related content. It maintains a website for local, national, and worldwide forecasting information.

Several of the channel’s expert reporters are very well known. When raging snow storms or hurricanes strike, viewers look to Jim Cantore, and Bryan Norcross, among others, for the latest conditions. Viewers can’t believe that the reporters, and the unsung, unseen camera crew, would be out there braving winds and rain and snow as they do.

Jim Cantore, intrepid 30-year veteran of The Weather Channel,
out in the thick of things with, of course, his crew.
Did you think he was out there alone?

One “innovation” of The Weather Channel was the naming of winter storms. In times past we heard, in retrospect, of storms names like “The Great Blizzard of 1947” or the 1993 “Storm of the Century.” Just over four years ago, The Weather Channel started naming every wave of severe winter weather that threatened significant areas of the country. The official governmental meteorological offices do not look favorably on this naming, and it is doubtful that it serves any use beyond being a publicity gimmick for the channel.

The Weather Channel, headquartered in Atlanta, relies on their own technological equipment, as well as information from the National Weather Service, part of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the Department of Commerce. Weather and reliable forecasts are vital to commerce.

Old saws like the one that start “Red sun in the morning…” or “If it rains before seven…” are still around for our amusement and amazement, but accurate predictions have become essential in our every-day lives.
One of the pioneers of scientific weather forecasting was Robert FitzRoy, Captain of the HMS Beagle on which Darwin sailed, Vice-Admiral in the Royal Navy, second Governor of New Zealand, and one of the first scientists to recognize, in the mid-1800s, that the study of weather patterns of the past could help predict those for the future. Such predictions, which he named “forecasts” were vital for mariners, fishermen, and commerce in general. At first the idea was ridiculed, but gradually it proved its worth, and our great interest in forecasts began.

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