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A Brief History of The Wacky Weatherman Trope

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The weather is certainly not something to be trifled with. As severe and dangerous events are becoming more frequent due to the effects of climate change, meteorology is a more serious business than ever before.

When the Weather Channel announced it would buy competing online weather service Weather Underground, many people were furious. The latter was always viewed as a serious, data-driven meteorological source, whereas the Weather Channel runs a website that tends to be dominated by click-bait link teases rather than actual weather reporting. Fans of Weather Underground feared their staid site would turn into a shiny and vapid dumping ground for sensationalist storm stories, but weather reporting hasn't always been treated with stoic reverence.

During television's early days, the "Wacky Weatherman" was a common and celebrated feature on newscasts. Between 1948 and 1952, the FCC put a halt to any new station licensing. This meant that channels in major markets had little to no competition for viewers. News reports remained serious, as did the weather. But in 1952, when the FCC's diktat was lifted, new competing stations starting popping up around the country. According to Robert Henson's Weather on the Air: A History of Broadcast Meteorology, "the ratings race was now under way, and television weather was not to escape its efforts."

"There were obvious restraints on the news itself—fires and shootings were hardly the stuff of comedy—so weather evolved into a primary arena for making the newscast more palatable," writes Henson. "The result was TV weather’s wildest and most uninhibited period.” Because all the information was coming from the same source—the National Weather Service—there was no need to have professional meteorologists in-house. The AP wire would spit out the forecast, and comedians, models, and other compelling faces were used to spice it up and bring in viewers.

In the above clip, Savannah, Georgia's Captain Sandy reads the weather with Clamity Clam, Aurther-mometer, and Wilbur the Weather Bird. Captain Sandy was a character played by multiple people over his run, highlighting the importance of having a weather "personality."

“A Nashville weathercaster gave his forecast in verse," writes Robert Henson. "Viewers in New York could get weather information at midnight from an ostensibly sleepy woman in a nightgown, tucking herself into bed.”

In 1957 in an attempt to wrestle the weather away from the wacky, the American Meteorological Society created the AMS Seal of Approval "as a way to recognize on-air meteorologists for their sound delivery of weather information to the general public." This was given to "television and radio forecasters who have a degree in meteorology or have completed 12 credit hours in atmospheric or related sciences…the weathercaster must submit a recording that is reviewed by a board of professional meteorologists.”

This coincided with a development that proved to be even more influential than any seal of approval: technologies that helped predict local weather more accurately. In this clip, former Tulsa, Oklahoma weatherman Don Woods talks about how his station took the radar system from an old B-25 bomber and re-tooled it to pick up precipitation. It was the first such use of radar technology, and, according to Woods, "Everybody was awe-stricken."

Soon, advanced and accurate technology replaced wacky characters as the big draw for weather reports, although television stations' newfound gizmo-based hubris is always good for some laughs:

Nowadays, there are remnants of the "Wacky Weatherman," but they exist mostly in the movies or areas with a pleasantly monotonous climate. You can only say "72 and sunny" so many times before going a little batty.

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Last Month Was the Second-Warmest October on Record
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After an unseasonably toasty October, the numbers are in: Temperatures exceeded averages across the globe last month, making it the second-hottest October ever recorded, according to NASA.

As Mashable reports, worldwide temperatures reached 1.62°F (or 0.90°C) above the average in October. It just edged out global temperatures in October 2016 and came short of the all-time October record set in 2015. But while El Niño contributed to temperature spikes in 2015, there's no weather event to explain the anomaly this time around.

Records of global mean surface temperature changes date back to 1880. Of the 136 years in NASA’s database, the past three years (2014, 2015, 2016) have produced the greatest temperature anomalies. With the end of the year approaching, it looks like 2017 will end up breaking into the top three, and will likely be the warmest non-El Niño year on record.

While alarming, the record-breaking statistics shouldn't be surprising to anyone who follows global climate trends. The Earth has been warming at a rapid rate in recent decades, and climate scientists blame the carbon dioxide being dumped into the atmosphere by human activity.

Following a hot autumn, the next few months aren't looking to be any cooler: Like last winter and the winter before that, this season is expected to be unusually warm.

[h/t Mashable]

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This Just In
How One New York Town Is Preparing for the Next Hurricane Sandy
Darren McCollester, Stringer, Getty Images
Darren McCollester, Stringer, Getty Images

This past Sunday marked five years since Hurricane Sandy made landfall over the northeastern U.S. While the towns hit hardest by the storm are using the time as an opportunity to reflect on the lives, homes, and landscapes that were destroyed, they’re also continuing to prepare for the next mega-storm that will reach their shores. One beach town in Staten Island, New York is investing in a strategy that’s especially innovative: As Mother Jones reports, the surge barrier that’s being erected off the shores of Tottenville will repurpose nature to provide protection from natural disasters.

The government-funded project, called Living Breakwaters, is the brainchild of MacArthur Genius and landscape architect Kate Orff. Rather than building a conventional seawall, Orff and her firm envision a “living piece of infrastructure” containing an oyster reef that will continue to grow and respond to its environment even after construction ends. During a harsh storm, the breakwater would absorb the impact of dangerous waves barreling toward shore. It also has the potential to preserve the environment in the long term by decreasing erosion and wave activity.

Because Living Breakwaters is designed to act as part of its environment, it offers a few benefits in addition to flood protection. The creatures that make their homes on the reef will eventually purify the waters around them and make the shores of Tottenville cleaner and healthier. The reef will also be more discreet and pleasing to look at than a harsh concrete wall, meaning Tottenville residents can enjoy their clear ocean views without having to sacrifice safety.

The project is still in its preliminary stages, with construction scheduled to start in 2019 and wrap up in 2021. Rather than relying entirely on an experimental method, the community is integrating the breakwaters into a larger flood protection plan. Some tools, like wave-blocking sand dunes, will also take advantage of the area’s natural resources.

[h/t Mother Jones]

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