Weather Broadcasts

The faculty of the Department of Meteorology has always been strongly committed to public service. By the late 1940s the public demanded more-sophisticated weather information. In 1948, when the School's Meteorological Observatory was receiving more than 2,500 phone calls a year for weather information, a graduate student began a system of hoisting color-coded flags atop the Mineral Industries Building to indicate upcoming conditions, a procedure that continued for ten years. The increase in the number of households with television brought new opportunities for public service weather forecasts, and in1957 Dr. Charles Hosler began a daily broadcast 'Make Hay with Hosler' on WFBG- TV, Altoona. The importance and appeal of such forecasts was emphasized unmistakably in the 1960s when the program was suspended due to the lack of adequate equipment to receive facsimile maps and forecasts directly from the National Meteorological Center in Washington, D.C. A group of Pennsylvania farmers spontaneously collected about $2,500 and presented it to the University, requesting continuation of the television forecasts. This effective demonstration by citizens had a great impact on the University administration.

Support for public service forecasting has grown, and the weather program in its various formats has continued to increase in popularity to become the most widely viewed program originated by the University. The program, now "Weather World" under the guidance of Frederick J. Gadomski, Paul G. Knight and Lee Grenci, is produced by the Penn State Weather Communications Group, a joint venture of the departments of Meteorology, Speech, and Learning and Telecommunications (which operates WPSX-TV for Penn State). This fifteen-minute nightly show provides not only a comprehensive weather forecast but also a wide variety of weather information. It is available to half a million homes via Pennsylvania Public Television Network and Panorama, an educational cable service.

The expanding public service function brought celebrity status to the university forecasters, who received more and more requests to give lectures on aspects of the weather to groups across the state. But this visibility was to have its disadvantage, as Dr. Hosler learned when his extensive research program on clouds, precipitation formation, and cloud-seeding was misinterpreted as contributing directly to a severe drought in the 1960s. The culmination of this unfortunate misconception was the enactment of state legislation that effectively disabled all useful research on weather modification at the University and brought to an abrupt end a valuable program of potential benefit to Pennsylvania agriculture.