In a state that endures and celebrates its weather extremes, John Graff was the voice of authority, detailing the imminent dangers, telling Minnesotans when it was time to come in from the cold, get out the snowblower or head to a basement room.
From 1976 to 1986 he was the meteorologist in charge of the Twin Cities office of the National Weather Service, reporting the latest weather developments in an era before smartphones provided instant updates. For seven years before that, he was second-in-command under meteorologist Joe Strub.
Graff died Nov. 12 in Olathe, Kan., of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. He was 86.
His family appreciated his sense of duty as the state's top weather forecaster.
"He's very intense about it and the family has understood that from day one," his late wife, JoAnna, told the Star Tribune when he retired in 1986. "It's just like being a doctor. You make a commitment and you live up to it."
During his tenure with the weather service, Graff sought to improve public safety by strengthening communication lines among state and local governments, emergency services and the media.
Paul Douglas, a former television meteorologist who now forecasts for the Star Tribune, described Graff as a "bridge builder" to the media.
"In many cities, local broadcasters saw the weather service as competition," Douglas said. "John went out of his way to break down the wall and build trust, to keep people informed and pass along high-quality information when the weather was severe."
Graff had flown for the U.S. Air Force before he joined the weather service, and had a bit of a military demeanor, but he had a light touch as well, said Jim Richardson, a retired meteorologist who worked under Graff.
"He would give you credit when you made a good forecast," Richardson said. And if it was not so good, Graff would joke about it.
But Graff did not take mistakes lightly. In January 1975, he issued a blizzard warning two days before it was to hit. Snowplows were waiting under clear blue skies and the governor had been alerted. If it didn't develop, Graff later recalled, he'd take responsibility.
"I was sweating for 24 hours," he said later. "Then we saw it developing in the next 24 hours and we started relaxing."
The storm caused 34 deaths and many injuries, but Graff said it could have been much worse.
Graff had a gift for flowery language, retired meteorologist Craig Sanders said. When staff members were not taking their messages out of their mailbox slots, Sanders said, Graff gathered the staff together and said, "These slots are not storage slots, they are rapid transmission facilities."
A graduate of St. Louis University-Parks College in 1959, he consulted with Control Data Corp. after his retirement.
"One of the things my dad really prided himself in was the true science of the weather," said his daughter Kris Gruenebaum of Lenexa, Kan. "I used to go with him to the roof of the weather service and launch weather balloons. He believed in going outside and looking at the weather."
Sue Baer, another daughter, of Overland Park, Kan., said he'd spread out weather maps on a table at home and plot storm movements with his children.
"He wanted us to be aware of our surroundings," she said. "He loved talking to people and educating people about what his passion was."
In addition to Gruenebaum and Baer, Graff is survived by sons Tim Graff of Hudson, Wis., and Bill Graff of Paris, France, and daughter Meg Gerdes of Eden Prairie. Services have been held.