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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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Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano Is Causing Another Explosive Problem: Laze
Mario Tama, Getty Images
Mario Tama, Getty Images

Rivers of molten rock aren't the only thing residents near Hawaii's Kilauea volcano have to worry about. Lava from recent volcanic activity has reached the Pacific Ocean and is generating toxic, glass-laced "laze," according to Honolulu-based KITV. Just what is this dangerous substance?

Molten lava has a temperature of about 2000°F, while the surrounding seawater in Hawaii is closer to 80°F. When this super-hot lava hits the colder ocean, the heat makes the water boil, creating powerful explosions of steam, scalding hot water, and projectile rock fragments known as tephra. These plumes are called lava haze, or laze.

Though it looks like regular steam, laze is much more dangerous. When the water and lava combine, and hot lava vaporizes seawater, a series of reactions causes the formation of toxic gas. Chloride from the sea salt mixes with hydrogen in the steam to create a dense, corrosive mixture of hydrochloric acid. The vapor forms clouds that then turn into acid rain.

Laze blows out of the ocean near a lava flow
USGS

That’s not the only danger. The lava cools down rapidly, forming volcanic glass—tiny shards of which explode into the air along with the gases.

Even the slightest encounter with a wisp of laze can be problematic. The hot, acidic mixture can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. It's particularly hazardous to those with breathing problems, like people with asthma.

In 2000, two people died in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from inhaling laze coming from an active lava flow.

The problem spreads far beyond where the lava itself is flowing, pushing the problem downwind. Due to the amount of lava flowing into the ocean and the strength of the winds, laze currently being generated by the Kilauea eruptions could spread up to 15 miles away, a USGS geologist told Reuters.

[h/t Forbes]

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Health
Watch a Tree Release a Massive "Pollen Bomb" Into the Air
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iStock

In case your itchy, watery eyes hadn't already tipped you off, spring is in the air. Some trees release up to a billion pollen grains apiece each year, and instead of turning into baby trees, many of those spores end up in the noses of allergy sufferers. For a visual of just how much pollen is being released into our backyards, check out the video below spotted by Gothamist.

This footage was captured by Millville, New Jersey resident Jennifer Henderson while her husband was clearing away brush with a backhoe. He noticed one tree was blanketed in pollen, and decided to bump into it to see what would happen. The result was an explosion of plant matter dramatic enough to make you sniffle just by looking at it.

"Pollen bombs" occur when the weather starts to warm up after a prolonged winter, prompting trees and grasses to suddenly release a high concentration of pollen in a short time span. Wind, temperature, and humidity levels all determine the air's pollen count for any given day, but allergy season settles down around May.

After determining that your congestion is the result of allergies and not a head cold, there are a few steps you can take to stave off symptoms before they appear. Keep track of your area's pollen report throughout the week, and treat yourself with antihistamines or nasal spray on days when you know it will be particularly bad outside. You can also keep your home a pollen-free zone by closing all the windows and investing in an air purifier. Check out our full list of seasonal allergy-fighting tips here.

[h/t Gothamist]

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