How Did Meteorologists Predict Weather Before the Internet?

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John Lindsey

When I started working at Diablo Canyon Power Plant in 1991, the World Wide Web was just out to the public – but in its infancy there wasn’t a huge amount of oceanographic or weather data available.

That, of course, would soon change in the years that followed.

Which leads to the question: How did you predict weather and oceanographic conditions before the Internet?

First, and I still do, I check the weather information for the Diablo Canyon Meteorological Towers. Since the late 1960s, Diablo Canyon has been tracking and recording wind speed and direction, temperature, precipitation, and atmospheric stability. In the early 1990s, the data was recorded electronically as it is today, but also displayed on paper recorders with comic strips.

Next, I would check the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) naval and waverider buoys.

In the 1990s, I used a dial-up modem—a Hayes 9600 baud modem, to be precise—to log into the Coastal Data Information Program (CDIP) at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, located in La Jolla. They specialize in wave measurement, swell modeling and forecasting.

In 1975 CDIP started a single wave monitoring station on Imperial Beach. Since then, CDIP has grown rapidly and has deployed and maintained wave measurement stations in more than 100 locations in the Western Hemisphere. The Diablo Canyon Waverider Buoy station is part of this network that began collecting wave data in June 1983. It is one of the most comprehensive continuous wave measuring stations along the west coast.

Then I checked the carts. The sea weather fax receiver is another device that does not rely on the Internet, but on shore radio transmitters. The weather fax is primarily a means of providing weather information to ships at sea without internet access. I have another Furuno thermal paper weather fax as a backup.

This fax machine receives and prints high quality satellite images and surface and overlying maps. These carts show areas of high and low pressure (storms), pressure gradients, wind and waves and the all-important ship reports on 10-inch wide thermal recording paper with nine gray levels.

I still have memories of the sound and smell of that little electric stylus swaying back and forth burning its information into the thermal paper as it slowly unrolled with the cards.

“When displayed and organized together, the charts give the mariner a complete meteorological and oceanographic picture,” according to the National Weather Service. “Prudent decision-making dictates that the seaman use all available information from as many sources as possible.”

The closest transmitter to our area is at Point Reyes, north of the Golden Gate. These charts are available online at: https://www.weather.gov/marine/ptreyeslatest

Finally, I would consult with the PG&E meteorologists who were headquartered in San Francisco at the time, and the late great Rea Strange—whose name was pronounced Ray—of Pacific Weather Analysis in Santa Barbara. He’s been forecasting the weather along the California coast for more than 50 years. He was also my mentor.

“If you see a blockage high in the Gulf of Alaska with increasing westerly latitudes, beware: it’s going to be stormy,” he told me as we analyzed the weather maps.

That’s the same kind of synoptic pattern we hope for during droughts.

“These ‘analog keys’ were used for a long time before being modeled … and frankly they are still good,” said KSBY TV meteorologist David Hovde.

In other words, they are an invaluable verification of the output of the numerical model.

Strange was a meteorological clairvoyant and I used many of his techniques to predict the weather, with or without the internet.

Earth Day Celebration in Montaña de Oro

After a two-year hiatus, join the PG&E staff on April 23 from 9 a.m. to noon to celebrate Earth Day at Montaña de Oro State Park.

Parking is available in the Spooner’s Cove parking lot, just below the Spooner’s Ranch House, where the group will begin and end the event.

The event is one of several service projects sponsored by PG&E and the California State Parks Foundation. Be sure to dress for outdoor work with long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy shoes, a hat, gloves, and sunscreen.

Snacks and a light lunch are provided, but bring your own water in a refillable bottle. Rangers provide tools and supervision.

If you plan to participate, please register at the California State Parks Foundation website

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