Talking About The Weather

Weather watchers favorite hobby

Americans love the weather, it’s one of our conversational mainstays.  Mark Twain’s famous quip, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it,” is not quite true.  Many people are watching it closely, and weather watching has spun off an entire industry catering to amateurs and professionals. Most operating system offer "gadgets" for desktops and mobile alterts for breaking weather news.

When Frank Batten, Sr. launched The Weather Channel in 1982, there were many who expected he would lose his shirt in a matter of weeks.  In the latest of a long line of success stories, TWC’s mobile interface – the latest of the media giant’s  production platforms – ranks second in revenue share among all downloadable mobile applications, with fierce competitor Accuweather.com finishing sixth. Weather Channel plug in was one of the first my first add ons when I bought a Windows 7 enabled computer. After three weeks of freezing desktop, I was forced to uninstall it. (Are you listening Weather Channel?)

Passing the Test Of Time

Two years before TWC burst on the scene, a rotund, jolly ex-TV clown joined the on-air team of NBC's Today Show as its full-time weatherman.  And in the past 25 years perhaps no one has represented America’s love affair with the weather more authentically than Willard Scott. His irrepressible joviality, his daily recognition of centenarian birthdays, and his empathetic connection with his audience all combined to turn him into a national sensation with countless commercial endorsements and years as host of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  When Scott handed the Today weather duties over to Al Roker in 1996, the fun shifted gears, but didn’t slow down for a second.

Long before the Scott-Roker tandem revolutionized the look of national weather coverage, it was clear that this country harbored a deep meteorology fixation.  It has always been our favorite topic for small talk, and often develops to an enthralling level quite unforeseen at the initial “Some hot spell we’ve been havin’, eh?”  And as America has grown into the most mobile nation in the world, this natural intrigue has morphed into practical necessity.  Whenever we’re going anywhere, we need and want to know what to expect on the weather front.  Batten, Scott, and other visionaries have turned this atmospheric voyeurism into enormous profit and success.

Commercial Gold Mine

Of course they are not alone.  National networks and local stations have spent millions equipping their weather forecasters with the most up-to-date and flashy weather graphics, competing fiercely for the pervasive meteorology buff.  Terms like “Accuweather forecast” and “Doppler radar” have become household words, and one metropolitan radio station boasts with great pride that it has “Atlanta’s only full-time radio meteorologist.”

But access to state-of-the-art weather is not the exclusive purview of the broadcast studio.  Millions of Americans receive constant weather updates via desktop applications such as WeatherBug, whose chirping alert notice is almost as recognizable as the Windows start-up theme.  And, as alluded to above, weather services along with traffic updates are among the most popular mobile applications.

Consumers also have their pick of innumerable weather gadgets for the home, the office, and the road.  These high tech tools range from wireless weather stations  giving temperature, barometric pressure, and other current conditions for around $40 to GPS systems like WeatherData’s Storm Hawk, providing real-time radar surveillance and many other weather services to your handheld computer for startup costs in the $1500 range, plus monthly subscription fees.  Accuweather’s AccuMall offers a dizzying assortment of weather toys, with product categories that include thermometers, barometers, rain gauges, weather radios, weather stations, lightning detectors – even sundials and weathervanes.  For example, the Skymate Plus Pocket Windmeter, guaranteed accurate to within ±3% and complete with wind chill calculation capabilities. 

Historic Weather Walk

Everyone has survived at least one memorable weather phenomenon – the record-breaking heat of 1955, the 1965 Palm Sunday tornadoes, the blizzard of ’79, the 2005 hurricanes.  And we relate the details vividly and with relish year after year after year.  Here are the top weather stories of the last half of the 20th Century, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association.  If you can boast first-hand knowledge of any of these events, you’re sure to grab center stage the next time your friends engage in a little weather-related one-upsmanship.

EVENT

DATE

LOCATION

DETAILS

Super Tornado Outbreak

April 3-4, 1974

Central US

148 tornadoes from the Great Lakes to Alabama, killing 315 people.

Hurricane Camille

August 1969

Southeast US

Category 5 Hurricane with 190 mph winds, leaving 256 dead in four states.

The Great Midwestern Flood

Summer 1993

Midwestern US

15 million acres flooded in nine states; 54,000 evacuated and 48 killed.

El Niño

1982-83
1997-98

Entire US

Record-breaking rainfalls and heat waves; strong storms, including early season tornadoes

Hurricane Andrew

August 1992

Florida and Louisiana

Costliest hurricane of the 20th century, causing over $25 billion in damages and leaving 250,000 homeless.

1993 Superstorm

March 1993

Northeastern US

Violent nor’easter that killed 250 people and caused the cancellation of 25% of US air flights over a two-day period.

OK/KS Tornado Outbreak

May 1999

Oklahoma and Kansas

74 tornadoes, including one F-5 that tracked for 40 miles; 42 killed, over 800 injured.

Blizzard of 1978

February 1978

New England

Hurricane force winds with up to 38 inches of snow and 15 foot drifts; 54 killed and 10,000 homeless.

 

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