When I was 15, I reported for my southern Minnesota high school newspaper on a field trip our class took to Brown Institute in Minneapolis.
“What a thrill,” I wrote about meeting Roy Finden, television weatherman and host of KSTP’s High School Bowl, a quiz show with school teams trying to out-nerd each other.
It might seem odd to some that supposedly surly and unworldly teenagers would get a rise out of meeting a weather guy. But we are Minnesotans, and weather is a big deal. It remains my contention that anyone in the Twin Cities media market could easily test out of a Meteorology 101 class. We’ve been blessed to have solid weather guys explaining just what’s going on out there.
It was folksy back in the day, sometimes over-the-top, and, after the mid-1970s, wonky. Which is why I started taking this mental trip down weather-guy lane. No matter who your favorite forecaster was, it’s also my contention that all of them would grit their teeth at our modern-day obsession with windchill.
We are swamped daily now with over-explanation of the weather, with facts and figures that don’t add to the information we need. It seems our weather talkers today are all about showing off how much they know. And windchill is right up that alley with its morphing calculations and breathlessly reported numbers.
I scream at the TV: Just tell me what the air temperature will be and if there will be wind. I can figure out the rest.
I’d rather have entertainers back in the mix.
The 1970s weather personalities weren’t necessarily “meteorologists.” Take Barry ZeVan, who was an animated actor first and a weather expert second, or even third. It was like watching a used-car salesman chat about the weather. And he was a sensation, at one time capturing half of the TV audience for KSTP.
We used to live near ZeVan in the northern suburbs, and my older brothers still tell tales of egging his house. I’m not sure if it was because he was grating or simply just a handy target who happened to be on TV.
ZeVan was the animated one, a far cry for more sober guys like Bud Kraehling, the first to use radar in his reports, or Finden.
Everything changed in 1975 when KSTP brought on Dr. Walt Lyons, the first actual meteorologist in the market. I recall promos emphasizing the breakthrough, with stress on “Doctor.” But even Lyons was entertaining in a nerdy way.
We might want to blame Paul Douglas as the spark to this wonky age. He started working at WTCN, now KARE, in 1983. He was pleasing and nerdy and had his own shtick, reporting from the studio’s “backyard,” a novel idea that stations across the country imitated.
Douglas was perfect for a market already weather savvy. He had Minnesota Nice, like Dave Dahl over at KSTP. Both were amalgams of weather guys from the past and what the future would become with more graphics and whiz-bang doodads.
President Donald Trump tweeted about windchill this week, all bluster and achingly inaccurate and misspelled, missing the forest for the trees on global warming. “In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded,” he wrote. “What the hell is going on with Global Waming?” (sic)
I’ve reported from Minnesota’s coldest spots, in the Tower and Embarrass area, during cold snaps. The air temperature record there is minus-60, so the president’s notion that the same number for windchill is the “coldest ever recorded” is a fantasy.
I’ve long dropped the argument with my significant other about our unheated garage. She swears that putting her car in there, out of the wind, helps keep it warm. I try to explain that aside from perhaps some microscopic warming from the ground in the enclosed space, the temperature of the car, as with all inanimate objects, never goes below the air temperature.
I’m all for warning people how quickly they could acquire frostbite with skin exposed to the cold. That’s what our weather guys used to tell us all the time. Now we just get these outrageous figures about windchill estimates. I’ve watched TV weather reports where the actual air temperature, let alone expected wind speeds, are never even mentioned.
A Cedric Adams column from a 1954 issue of the Minneapolis Star discussed the term. “A thing called ‘windchill’ has been introduced by weather scientists,” he wrote. “The ‘windchill’ readings may soon replace temperature readings as a measure of cold … you’ll be able to judge outside conditions and dress or act accordingly.”
We live here. It gets cold. And windy. If we have common sense, much like those early weather forecasters, we need only that basic information. We can figure out the rest.
It’s minus-18 in Duluth right now. There’s a slight breeze off Lake Superior. I’m going to don my Smart Wool, a balaclava and wind-breaking outer gear and go to the Lakewalk with my protest sign, inspired by my early weathercasting heroes and inflamed by windchill madness.
“More weather! Less wonk.”
Mike Creger is a writer from Duluth. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.