Weathermen get sunny goodbye

May 18, 1994|By TaNoah V. Sterling | TaNoah V. Sterling,Sun Staff Writer

A caption in Wednesday's Maryland section of The Sun misidentified the National Weather Service forecaster receiving a mayor's citation.

Amet Figueroa received the citation, while Fred Davis (left) and Ken Shaver (right) looked on.

The Sun regrets the errors.

PTC

When the National Weather Service predicted a "light dusting" of snow on Feb. 18, 1979, the forecast turned into a nightmare that some people still won't let meteorologist Fred Davis forget.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"We got 24 inches. One of the guys who worked at the airport said, 'Boy, you guys missed that one by a mile.' I said, 'No, we just missed it by two feet,' " Mr. Davis said yesterday, laughing as he recalled moments from his 25 years of forecasting for the Weather Service at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

"People still come up to me and say, 'Hey, what happened to that light dusting?' It almost became a nickname for me. You'd think after 15 years there'd be a statute of limitations," he said.

He spent many winter storms in the office with co-workers Ken Shaver and Amet Figueroa who, along with Mr. Davis, could soon be ending their forecasting careers after a combined 74 years at BWI. Yesterday, the three forecasters were honored at a City Hall ceremony.

The responsibilities for the Baltimore area forecasts are being shifted to high-tech facilities in Sterling, Va., near Dulles International Airport.

Casualties of technology, the forecasters' personal touch will be gone for the many Baltimoreans who relied on their work.

"Forecasting is an art to me and not a science, and now the artists are gone," said Bill Abel, BWI's operations manager.

He often consulted the forecasters for up-to-date reports on the heavenly conditions; now he'll be consulting computer reports.

"It will be a very personal loss to me . . . . It's always nice to talk to the weatherman," Mr. Abel said.

While marking his 25th year, Mr. Davis, 60, said the forecasters' job is the kind that follows them everywhere.

"One time we had a party at the neighborhood beach, and some guys threw me off the dock. My daughter was crying. She said, 'Why did they do that to my daddy?' They said, 'He deserved it. He called the weather wrong.' "

Mr. Figueroa, who is considering retirement, said even his wife has doubted his expertise.

"Whenever we're going out and I say it looks like it's going to be a good day, she always takes her umbrella, no matter what the situation," he said.

Yesterday, though, the forecasters got some respect.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke presented them with a mayor's citation, saying they did "the kind of work that improved the quality of life for folks."

"When people ask what's happening in the weather we just talk about the National Weather Service and not about the people who work there," he said. "You all are kind of unsung heroes in the community."

And, despite the chiding the forecasters sometimes have received from friends, Mr. Davis said he'll miss providing Baltimoreans a local point of view.

"I've had other chances to move on and make more money, but I chose not to," he said. "It's just a feeling and a sense that we're Baltimore people."

Mr. Shaver, who is considering retirement after 26 years, said he'll miss his job and the people he worked with.

"It feels kind of strange to be sitting in Baltimore and not be able to participate," he said. "You kind of feel like you're in charge of the local area. But I guess it's something we have to get used to."

Mr. Figueroa said that the personal touch the forecasters provided -- answering phone calls about the weather, for example -- will be a loss for the public.

But he added that if there were a legacy he could leave to the city, it would be one of dedication.

"We did the best we could for Baltimore," he said. "We were the last of those who cared for the individual.

"We got lots of letters from people when they heard the office was moving to Virginia. It was nice to know that we're appreciated and they let us know. It was really touching."

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