I REMEMBER being fascinated by snow at age 3. When I was 7, my grandmother gave me a diary, which I used to keep track of the days when it snowed. At around 9, I’d get up early and listen to weather forecasts on all the radio stations I could, so that I could track storms.
I had an entrepreneurial bent, too. When I was 8 and my younger brother, Barry, was 5, he and I made potholders. I’d sell them for 25 cents and pay him 10 cents. You had to be 12 to get a paper route, so at 11 I fibbed about my age and delivered The Evening Bulletin in Philadelphia, where I lived.
Around that time, my father showed me a magazine article about a meteorologist selling weather forecasts to fuel-oil dealers. That cemented my career path; it sounded ideal to sell specialized forecasts to businesses.
As a teenager, I was a weather observer in North Philadelphia for the United States Weather Bureau, now the National Weather Service. I was more interested in baseball, coin collecting and the weather than in school. My great-grandfather attended Central High School in Philadelphia, which had a great reputation, so my father used his name to get the school to admit me. I finally started doing well and continued to do so at Penn State, where I received my undergraduate, master’s and Ph.D. degrees in meteorology.
My first day on campus at Penn State, I went to the school newspaper office and asked if I could provide the weather forecast. The editor agreed but said she needed me to cover the police beat as well. Shortly afterward, I visited the weather station on campus for the first time. Charlie Hosler, who would become my thesis adviser, was planning the next day’s weather telecast. Dick Hallgren, later the director of the National Weather Service, was also there.
They were debating whether the rain would be heavy the next day. I told Charlie that it wasn’t going to rain at all — and I left. I was a scrawny 18-year-old. Charlie later told me that after I walked out, Dick asked, “Who was that kid?” I turned out to be right.
I started AccuWeather at my kitchen table in 1962. Government forecasts are free to businesses and the public, so friends and colleagues told me that I was crazy to try to sell forecasts myself. I called thousands of prospects before I achieved my goal of getting 100 customers. It took 10 years. My first client was a gas utility, but ski resorts were the bulk of my customers then. I tailored my forecasts to each client. One might want information on possible snow accumulation, and another only temperatures.
For 21 years, I taught meteorology courses at Penn State. The first year was a trial by fire. When the professor didn’t show up to an advanced class I was assisting with that fall, I ended up teaching the entire course. During the 1970s, I did taped and live forecasts for about 20 radio stations across the country, including 1010 WINS in New York.
By 1981, AccuWeather had 80 employees and I stopped teaching because of the demands of running the company and serving as a trustee at Penn State. Today, AccuWeather has 400 employees and 175,000 global clients.
People have made fun of weather forecasters, but we’ve made tremendous progress in accuracy over the years. Today, we use advanced physics and computer modeling and complex mathematics.
Every two years, I have a physical at the Mayo Clinic. During my last visit, a doctor told me that people could be productive long into their 90s if they adhered to a healthy lifestyle. I have no desire to slow down. I’m having too much fun.
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