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Don Paul: How this professional weather geek got started

Every adult meteorologist has a different story in their childhood, but there is a common thread which runs through most of our formative years. It’s fascination with storms. Not partly sunny, not patchy fog, not Indian Summer … but STORMS!

Most meteorologists develop a passion for stormy weather early in life. Even today, when I meet meteorology undergrads, the story remains the same. In northern latitudes, it’s generally snowstorms which turn us on, anywhere from age 5 to 8.

One rare exception to my snow hypothesis is Dr. “Howie” Bluestein, one of the nation’s premier tornado experts at the University of Oklahoma. Howie grew up in Boston, and first taught at MIT before migrating to where the real tornadic action is.

I knew not of tornadoes when I was 5 or 6. I knew snow, which oozed infrequent paradise toward me when it got delivered in great nor’easters in the New York metro area. Yes, all kids dig snow days, and love playing in the stuff. But the stuff of the pre-storm excitement was what rang my bell. My bell ringer was an early TV weatherman named Tex Antoine, on WNBC-TV. Tex was a postwar staff announcer and artist for that station while I was a swaddled baby, when local news began in the late 40s. Management asked Tex if he would like to do a nightly weather show. In those days, the weathercast was usually a separately sponsored, 5 minute program within the newscast half hour. That was standard procedure not just in New York but across the nation including, I think, Buffalo.

Tex didn’t know he loved weather until he began doing his show, which brought him on the job exhilaration. Searching high and low, no pun intended, I could not find a video from this early time in television of one of his wonderful map discussions.

Of course, I did find a commercial Tex did, since all TV weathercasters had to do commercials in that era.

On a college field trip from Rutgers to the old U.S. Weather Bureau office a floor below WNBC in Rockefeller Plaza, I learned from an older meteorologist on staff that Tex quickly grew to become excited by … STORMS. He became one of their family. The story was he realized he needed to learn more about weather, so he befriended the staff in the Weather Bureau, who tutored him. Tex was a delightful fella with great wit, and this meteorologist said he would hang out with them between the early and late news. He would frequently bring in deli sandwiches and coffee in return for their generosity. I remember on-air he wore an artist’s smock, drew maps on the air and had a magnetic cartoon face named “Uncle Wethbee” (owned by Con Edison) next to his easel. He would dress Uncle Wethbee with hats and attach umbrellas appropriate to the forecast. In the winter, though, Tex really radiated heat if the Weather Bureau was expecting a nor’easter. He’d draw a little “L” (for low pressure) in the Gulf of Mexico, and a -20 for a temperature somewhere in central Canada, and talk about a marriage between the L and the -20. More often than not, he’d rub his hands together with glee, which was infectious for me and annoying for my dad. My dad did not share my love for snow, since he was a sane man who had to go to upholster furniture in Manhattan at 6:30am. “You don’t have to drive in it!” was his growl. Well, he didn’t either. He drove his Pontiac Chieftain to the bus stop, and then he took the bus through the Lincoln Tunnel to get to work.

As for watching the snow fall, I was at a disadvantage. Through age 14, we lived in a one bedroom apartment which looked out upon an alley, in a five-story building in North Bergen, N.J., a few miles north of Hoboken and Jersey City.

Let’s just say my household visibility on nature was limited. Snow had to be very heavy duty to make its way down through the alley to our second-floor fire escape to pile up. If I woke up to 8 inches on the fire escape, I knew it REALLY had snowed up a storm overnight, with lots more to be found outside in the open.

The best view to be had was in my neighbor’s apartment across the hall. Bob Kornberg was born the day before me at Margaret Hague Maternity Hospital in Jersey City, and we remain friends to this day. (He is a school administrator in North Bergen.) Bob had a view out to the street and to North Hudson County Park, across the street. This was excellent visibility, and there was a bright street lamp to see how hard it was snowing when it was dark. Uncle Kornberg, as my grown daughters know him, and his mom would let me in anytime to watch the storm. Without Bob and his mom Dotty, I might never have had a good view of a blizzard until I was studying them in college.

Bob and I both attended Robert Fulton Elementary School. There were no weather units back then, so I began reading books on weather fundamentals on my own. As I got older, one of my first serious guidebooks was Peterson’s “Field Guide to the Atmosphere.”

By the time I was in North Bergen High School, I’d become quite the weather know-it-all. I was blissfully unaware of all the math and physics in the path of someone who just simply dug storms and didn’t think there was that much more to it. Such is the way of many kids on social media these days, who can download models they don’t understand and pontificate, exaggerate, and attempt to strike storm panic for their followers.

Unlike them, I had no splashy maps and charts I could wave at anybody to whip up some frothy alarm about a coming coastal storm. Only close pals and teachers knew what I was thinking about the weather, which was probably of no great value except to me.

When I recently attended my 50th high school reunion back in Jersey, nearly everyone remembered my weather geekiness and goofy humor. I must have been quite the pest.

There was one thing I loved about that alley apartment. When we had a nor’easter, the adjacent alley between our building and the next apartment building over allowed a great howling wind audio effect. Enjoy! There’s 60 minutes of it on this link.

At age 14, we moved to a two-bedroom apartment a few blocks away. I had a much better view, but I lost my soundtrack.

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