Milton Bass: Forecasting business still partly cloudy



There was a time in this country when one of the most vilified public personalities was the female, television "meteorologist." TV moguls picked her because she was young, blonde and beautiful. And she had fifth grade reading skill.

Blonde, and beautiful. The public didn't like her because they knew why she had been picked. TV moguls, in their wisdom, felt that the typical American male, besotted with the need to know if the weather was going to affect the game he had to witness or play, would take whatever looming clouds were calling the shots because they couldn't shout "NO!" to a well-dressed girl. Some of those well-dressed girls moved up to star positions on network shows with corresponding pay, and this caused men to become professionally interested and to start studying at schools, a few of which were legitimate.

The first serious weather scholars were the Babylonians, who arrived on the scene in 340 B.C. with Meteorologica in which they started naming weather patterns. This was the patterned method until 1835 when the invention of the electric telegraph made it possible to spread the weather word quickly around the world, infinitely faster than had been possible before.

This also brought forth the weathermen, perhaps most notably NBC's well-loved Willard Scott, with the gimmicks, some funny, some not. They were paid for audience value rather than weather skill.


The current high guru of weather today is Al Roker of the "Today" show. Despite not being a trained meteorologist, Roker has the bland face of a person being forced to bring you bad news no matter how much it hurt you personally. According to reports, his one formal credential is to possess an expired American Meteorology Society Television Seal of an unknown year. Roker started broadcasting weather in his college days so there is help for all.

The two men who have had the know-how to fashion the weather into a valuable help in many fields are Francis Beaufort and Robert FitzRoy of the British Royal Navy. Their research was pooh-poohed by the media, but their work was successfully defended by the Royal Navy.

The cause was also aided by a man named Luke Howard who in 1802 started classifying clouds and by 1806 there was the guide book called "International Cloud Atlas." The weathermen were literally up in the clouds at the next development: Computers! Yes, you're right. Computers. The weather numbers became so voluminous that they needed computers to handle them. Computer people like nothing so much as overdoing. So they began designing computers that automatically detected problems and then automatically corrected them before they could adjust them.

It is not uncommon to hear a meteorologist state that his team had put the forthcoming potential storm on four different computer systems, but they still could not decide which model might be right. Are we millimetering ourselves back to the original craps game? Maybe. Maybe not. Somewhere out there in the British Royal Navy there's probably a guy on the verge of a knockout technique. I'll give him another 45 days.

Milton Bass is a regular Eagle


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