The Weatherman

Published 6:49 pm Saturday, December 15, 2018

By Yolande Robbins

Now if you’re old, really hip, and politically savvy, you’ll know that the famous Bob Dylan line was, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” And you’ll know that that line gave the name “Weatherman” to a faction of SDS that advocated armed struggle back in the 1960s.

But this isn’t what that was about.

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While watching our local forecaster one day, I started to wonder where all of them came from.

I first heard the word, “weatherman” when it belonged to Clint Youle in Chicago. He wasn’t the first to do weather on TV. But he was the first to be called “weatherman” in 1949.

He pioneered the use of colored markers on “weather” maps from which my classmates and I learned a lot of geography and science.

But commerce killed his craft. And when he was cut to four-and-a-half minutes, with two of them for commercials, he stopped being a meteorologist, he said, and became a “weatherman.”

And in the same year Youle was starting the first nationally televised forecasts, New York was suffering a drought and listening to another weatherman named Wallace Howell.

Like Youle, Howell had trained in weather science in the Army Air Corps during the Second World War. But afterwards he had gotten a doctorate in the subject from MIT.

That same year, the reservoirs in New York were dropping to record lows.

But Howell did something about it.

He set up a command station in New York and watched for cloudbanks. He commanded a fleet of police planes to assault them with seeds of dry ice. He made use of a chain of ground-based smoke generators to disperse silver iodine crystals.

And very soon his efforts appeared to pay off. There were freak snowstorms and the reservoirs filled again. And we think people stopped praying.

Though initially reluctant to take the credit, Howell did finally proclaim “I have made rain” in 1951 when reservoirs were full again.

Where are these people today?

Today’s weathermen must be markedly amiable and able to fit in their forecast in some very tight constraints. But with enough geography to know the map — and enough science to speak grandly when the weather permits — the people now walking in Youle and Howell’s shoes move quickly from entry-level, and becoming a weatherman has become a career of choice.

It looks easier than it is.

And although positions as operational meteorologists (preferred nomenclature) are open to people with just a bachelor’s degree, obtaining a graduate degree greatly enhances opportunities.

The Youle-Howell proliferation of weathermen is still quite astounding, I think. And where all  this weather interest came from, I’m still not really sure.

But we really still need a good weatherman to tell us which way the wind blows.

Yolande Robbins is a community correspondent for The Post. Email her at