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The Evolution of Television Weather Reports

1950s | July 19, 2019

Jack Lescoulie doing the weather report from Atlantic City on June 26, 1956 -- Photo by: NBC/NBC NewsWire(Getty Images)

If you are like most people, you probably have at least one weather app on your phone. With access to up-to-date weather right in our pockets anytime we want it, you may think that television weather forecasts could quickly become a thing of the past. So far, at least, that doesn't seem to be the case. The Weather Channel is going strong, and folks still tune into the evening news to see that their local TV station's weather personality is predicting for the coming week. Weather reports have been a staple of television broadcasting since the beginning. Let's take a look at the history of broadcast meteorology.

In the 1920s, radio broadcasters simply read basic weather information. (davidderrick.wordpress.com)

Two Technology Booms and the First Weather Report

Advances in weather forecasting came along almost at the same time that broadcast technology, particularly radio, was drastically improving. The goal of the newly developed radio---and later, television---was to disseminate information to the public quickly and clearly. In April 1915, a technology-loving meteorologist named Clarence Root, who was the director of the U.S. Weather Bureau in Springfield, Illinois, sent out the first weather forecast to a select group of people using wireless broadcasting. Root had already realized the potential of broadcasting to reach people quickly. He said "I believe that wireless will, in the future, be the method of distributing weather forecasts. It is much quicker than mail. In times of frosts or approaching storms, the information is of inestimable value to farmers and growers."

Getting weather updates via radio. (neatorama.com)

Radio Weather Reports

KDKA Radio in Pittsburgh became the first commercial radio station in the country to broadcast regular weather reports for the general public on November 2, 1920. While it was easy to see why weather information would be important to farmers, the directors of KDKA understood that the average citizen also needed to know about the weather. More and more radio stations followed suit and offered their own weather forecasts. Predicting the weather with accuracy improved throughout the 1920s with use of weather balloons. 

Weather reports were primitive in the 1950s. (wmtw.com)

The First TV Weather Report

With the invention of the television, the U.S. Weather Bureau began offering televised weather reports. These became a standard featured of the evening news throughout the 1950s. During this time, most of the information about the weather was taken from radio reports sent out by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As local television stations began focusing more on news impacting their own community, viewers clamored for weather reports that catered to their own region.

For a while, TV weathermen were the comic relief of the news broadcast. (abjournal.com)

The Crazy Weathermen

Reporting on the weather could be rather boring. To liven things up for their viewers, most television stations used gimmicks to get people to watch the weather reports. Accuracy fell by the wayside, since getting ratings was more important than whether it was actually going to rain tomorrow. The station's weatherman was the comic relief in the broadcast, the colorful character with the zany antics that gave the dubious weather report with a comedic hook. Later, stations hired pretty, young women to give the weather, counting on the eye candy to improve ratings. Being a television weather personality was a joke, sometimes literally.

TV stations hired pretty, young girls to be their weathergirls. (pinterest.com)

Legitimizing Meteorology

Perhaps realizing that actually knowing what the weather would be like was more important than how attractive or funny the person telling them was, more and more stations began to shift from weather reporters to station-employed meteorologists. By the end of the 1970s, TV weathermen and -women were part of the broadcast team and often interacted with the news anchors. The graphics used to show weather information to the public began to improve with the introduction of computer graphics and green screens. The weather reporters no longer had to draw on plexiglass or slap stickers of raindrops and suns onto large maps. 

The Weather Channel revolutionized weather broadcasting. (grayflannelsuits.com)

The Weather Channel

Cable TV allowed for the opportunity for more specialized TV programming. The Weather Channel started broadcasting weather information 24 hours a day on May 2, 1982. The Weather Channel used state-of-the-art computer models and graphics to present the weather forecasts. They also hired actual meteorologists to explain the weather to the viewers. In short, they elevated weather broadcasting from a gimmick to a serious scientific field. Although it's become synonymous with the most boring TV channel you can think of, many of The Weather Channel's on-air meteorologists have become celebrities, so at least some viewers out there are watching with rapt attention.

Today, we can get up-to-date weather right on our phones. (gadgets.ndtv.com)

The Future of Weather Reporting

Sure, we all have all those handy weather apps on our phones, but most people still want to get weather information from a person that they can trust, like their local TV meteorologist. This is especially true in times of dangerous weather, like tornado or hurricane outbreaks, severe storms, and flooding. When the big one hits, keep your phone nearby, but use it to listen to your local sky expert.

Tags: news reports, weather reports

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.