Thursday, July 2, 2015

Snowy anniversary

Recalling a surprise snowstorm, and its impact on the weather business.

Snowy anniversary

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The forecast was benign – maybe a sprinkle or flurry -- so as he did every school day, the 13-year-old boy rode his bike from his home in Northeast Philadelphia to Central High School.

When school let out on the afternoon of Nov. 6, 1953, the boy had to walk his bike home in a near-blizzard.

Almost everyone captured by weather has some cosmic memory of a snowstorm. The one above happens to belong to a guy named Joel N. Myers, who founded a company called AccuWeather.

Myers recalled that by the time the snow stopped on the morning of Nov. 7, 1953, by his count, 13 inches of snow had descended upon his neighborhood.

And by his count, the U.S. government had cheated him out of about 30 percent of his snow, since the  official measurement at Philadelphia International Airport was 8.8 inches, and that’s what the world would accept as Philadelphia’s storm total.

“They had some snow haters down there,” Myers said last week. Still, that remains the earliest recorded snowfall of 4 inches or more in Philadelphia.

That storm, and his disenchantment the measurement, further seeded an idea that already had condensed in his brain and would take flight more or less a decade later.

That’s when Myers, then a Penn State professor, started a forecast business that became to known as AccuWeather, which since has grown into one of the world’s largest weather companies.

Myers, who just celebrated his 74th birthday, recalled being fascinated by weather as a child – starting a weather diary at age 7, bitter about another perceived snow undercount at the airport at age 6 -- and having a precocious entrepreneurial bent.

He delivered papers, shoveled snow, and made and sold potholders with his brother.  Then, at age 11, his father showed him an article that changed everything.

A guy in Boston was selling tailored forecasts to oil companies, the story said, and that inspired Myers to believe he could make money while pursuing a passion.

The rest, as they say, is weather history.

Looking back, Myers says he has some regrets that he didn’t get into the TV business back in the ‘80s, a la the Weather Channel, but that it would have required a risk that he wasn’t willing to take at the time. “I would have had to bet the whole company, and more,”  he said.

He believes he made the right call. “Globally,” he said, “We’re way ahead” of the Weather Channel.

AccuWeather recently set off a storm of skepticism in the weather community by introducing a 45-day forecast.

Now, Myers said, AccuWeather is about to go to the other end of the time scale and add minute-by-minute forecasts.

He said that AccuWeather recently acquired SkyMotion, a Canadian company that has been supplying  the very very short-term forecasts via a free mobile app.

AccuWeather expects to make this available during the next 60 days. An announcement is expected this week.

Inquirer Weather Columnist
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Tony Wood Inquirer Weather Columnist
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