The weather is driving me crazy lately. Well not the weather itself, which has been gorgeous, it’s the reporting of it. Take today’s weather as reported yesterday. Yesterday the newspaper showed a black cloud for all of today. It’s 2 pm and Mr. Sun’s rays are flooding my desk.
When I was a kid in New York there was a weatherman named Tex Antoine, born of course, in Texas. Tex worked with a cartoon character he called Uncle Wethbee. Those who thought they were erudite incorrectly called him Uncle Weatherbee. According to Wikipedia, Tex Antoine was a professional radio voice with many credits to his name in the 1940’s when he decided to take over the weather desk. He was an instant hit. He’d dress his bald “prop-uncle” in weather appropriate schtick for what ole Tex was forecasting for the next day-a cap if it was rainy or windy, a muffler on a chilly day, drops of sweat pouring from his brow in a heat wave, combinations thereof if it were a mixed forecast all offset by his trademark handle bar mustachio.
In those days weather forecasters were working with primitive radar, weather balloons, weather buoys, and reports from people whose joints hurt. Since everyone realized they were getting their weather reports from a cartoon prop, if Uncle “W” was wrong, people had an “oh well what do you expect from a cartoon prop” attitude. If he was right, it was the talk of the subways the next morning. The forecast was preceded by a recording of “Fine and Dandy.” Wikipedia reports that Tex used to have a record for each kind of weather, i.e. a recording of “Stormy Weather” if rain was predicted, but it was the day of the very breakable 78 rpm records and newsrooms in those days were a study in chaos. “Fine and Dandy” was the lone survivor.
Today it’s a whole ‘nother story. Weather forecasting is serious, costly business. It just isn’t very accurate. Theoretically we can be told that it is going to rain on the west side of your lawn at 6:45 am or pm. So how come at 6:45, am or pm, it isn’t? So how come there are so many days when we leave with an umbrella we don’t need, and so many others when we leave without the one we do need?
I think today’s weather forecasts are beautiful, and I don’t mean some of the people giving them. There’s this Doppler stuff, and maps of color intensity. We’ve got arrows galore for how high the highs will be and how low the lows, where the highs will be high and the lows low and if, when, and where they might meet. I’m not sure why, probably for travelers, but here in South Florida, we have pinpoint forecasting for central Missouri, west Texas, and Oklahoma’s tornado belt. Me? I’d prefer them tightening up on our own weather and leaving Oklahoma’s weather folks to take care of their own. Most of us will sleep just fine if deprived of the weather from places we’re not going and most of us are probably never going.
Now surprisingly enough, I’ve actually had a shot, of sort, at doing the weather. It ain’t easy. On a tour of the NBC building, I was chosen to stand-in, so to speak, as a weather reporter in front of the camera, but off the air. Tricky business this. What’s behind, say Al Roker, isn’t behind Al Roker, its off to the side. He’s pointing to a green screen that’s blank, but shows on camera where his finger’s are pointing. That’s why a newbie, if you’ve ever seen one, can ending up pointing to Georgia’s weather in Texas. It’s a game of pin the tail on the weather. But that’s the art of giving the weather and frankly Uncle Wethbee did just fine for me. At least I got a chuckle from it–the weather was more family entertainment than it was science.
Now that it’s science…maybe it ought to go back to family entertainment…. Yes, I kid a bit. Extreme weather forecasting is critically important and can be crucial to life and limb. But occasionally I’d like for tomorrow’s weather to be what they called for it to be tonight.
Not too much to ask, me thinks.