Growing up in the east side of the state my interest in weather and weather forecasting was started in 1960 after the September 1, 1960 storm the rolled thru Bay City. During the 1960 most of my weather information came thru books and the forecast came thur short spots on local radio stations. WTAC in Flint and WJR in Detroit were the big stations in the early to late 1960’s for the go to weather information. In 1969 WJRT out of Flint hired a on air meteorologist by the name of John McMurray and from WJRT tv and WJR radio he became my go to guy for weather information. By the 1970’s I started getting my information from NOAA weather radio that was a huge improvement for getting weather information 24hs a day. Here Is a little history on weather communication to the public over the years.
The first weather report was a test transmitted by “wireless telegraphy” from Illiopolis, Illinois, in April of 1915. The transmission was received across most of the state and was supplied by Clarence Root, a meteorologist and the Director of the U.S. Weather Bureau in Springfield, Illinois. The first commercial radio station in the U.S. was KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which launched on November 2, 1920. KDKA broadcast news and weather information that could be heard by the public. During the 1920’s, forecasting improvements occurred with the launching of weather balloons from various locations around the nation. Temperature and wind data at different levels of the atmosphere could be combined with the tracking of approaching weather systems.
A New York Times article indicated that the first televised weather report occurred on October 14, 1941 from WNBT in New York. The report was given by a cartoon character “Wooly Lamb”. Since hardly anyone owned a television set at that time, only a few could see the report. In the 1950s, the newscast weather segment became more of an afterthought. It was perceived that more entertainment was needed and the TV “weatherman” became more of a character than a scientist. Cartoon characters, crazy stunts, and wild costumes became more of the norm. The 1970s brought significant changes to the weather broadcast. Although the graphics stayed primitive, the weather presenter became part of the “news team” and was often forced into situations where they had to talk about other subjects besides the weather.
During the 1970s, the public’s demand for more weather information increased dramatically. in the late 1970s John Coleman, who was a meteorologist for Good Morning America hatched a plan for a 24-hour weather cable network. After several years of hard work the plan came into fruition. On May 2, 1982, The Weather Channel was launched and it became a key moment in the history of weather communication to the public. As a meteorologist for Good Morning America, John realized that a brief weather report in the morning or other brief reports during 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts came up short of what the public expected and needed. The National Weather Service was able to generate more information (e.g. tornado watches and warnings) but there was no good way to communicate it to the public.
While broadcasting national weather, and other features, 24 hours a day, it was impossible to persuade local cable TV affiliates to add The Weather Channel to their roster of cable stations without some kind of “localization”. The Weather Channel development group created a addressable receiver that could capture and format NWS forecasts and transmit them to a particular location. Because of this, viewers would be able to receive their own local forecast.
At long last, the public could get weather information ANY time of day. They could receive their local forecast several times an hour. One of the great features of the Weather Star was that all NWS weather warnings would crawl on your TV screes. For example in a tornado warning, your screen would turn red and the warning text would scroll. The Weather Channel ignited revolutionary changes in the way that weather is communicated to the public. Before the Weather Channel there was a daily program on PBS called AM weather and this was a program that I would watch every morning when I could. Here is a video of a show from July 1989
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