Wednesday, January 28, 2015

If Stu Kerr were alive, this wouldn't have happened

Stu Kerr, photo compliments of
Unless you're fifty years or older and lived in Maryland through the 50's, 60's, or 70's, you're probably asking, "Who the heck is Stu Kerr?"  Short answer: Stu Kerr was a man who wore many hats, and can lay claim to being the greatest weatherman Maryland - maybe even the world - has ever seen.

You know how we told you the story of Bonnie and how people can have a huge impact on others without knowing it, much less even trying?  Stu Kerr is another example of a person who had a huge impact on at least this writer's life, and, undoubtedly, many other lives.  If he were alive today and were still the weatherman on WMAR-TV, Channel 2, he probably would've given the official forecast for the "historic" Blizzard of 2015 and then probably would've added something along the lines, "But I think the National Weather Service is a bit off on this one.  We'll be lucky to see more than a dusting."

I know.  "Bold claim," you're thinking. 

As a kid, I watched Stu Kerr's forecast every day, especially in the winter.  I love snow and I would flip through all three stations hoping one of the weathermen would give me snow.  That is how I found Stu Kerr.  I was excited because the other two stations were talking about an Alberta Clipper that would bring four to six inches of snow the next day.  I flipped to Channel 2 and Stu Kerr gave the same forecast and then said (to the best of my recollection), "...but I think the Clipper is going to move too far south and we'll be lucky to see any snowflakes out of this one."  I was disappointed with his forecast and vowed to never watch him again.  The other two stations had to be right.  The next day, however, proved Stu Kerr right.  We had some brief snow showers that wasn't even enough to tinge the ground white.

Over the next few weeks, two more Alberta Clippers were forecasted to come through with the official forecast claiming four or more inches with each system.  For each one, the other two stations gave the official forecast.  Stu Kerr gave the official forecast, and then added that he didn't think they would drop anything.  He was spot on each time.

Professor Kool and His Fun Skool
Who'd of thunk he was the most
accurate weatherman?
By the time the fourth Clipper was forecasted to come through, the National Weather Service predicted flurries to a light dusting with a few isolated areas maybe seeing no more than an inch.  The other two stations dutifully reported the official forecast.  Stu Kerr delivered the official forecast and then said (to the best of my recollection) "...but this one, folks, I think will be different.  I think at least four inches for most of us, and up to eight inches, particularly east of Baltimore."  The next day, I had a half day of school and eight inches of snow in my yard.

I watched Stu Kerr that night hoping he'd bring more snow on top of the eight inches he delivered.  There was none in the forecast, but after giving me the bad news of no snow, one of the anchors asked him why, over the last few weeks, were his forecasts more accurate than the official forecasts from the National Weather Service.

His answer was a simple one.  Again, to the best of my recollection, he said, "I get out of the studio and look at the sky and pay attention to the animals around me.  It's too easy to get blinded by all the fancy technology we have today, but sometimes, the old wives' tales can tell you more than the technology."

After he let the proverbial cat out of the bag, occasionally he would offer a tidbit of an old wives' tale that influenced his forecast.  I took careful note.  Any time old-timers, like my grandparents, parents, or family friends and neighbors offered such tidbits, I paid attention.  I put all of them to the test.  I even got a book for Christmas that had a section on foretelling the weather using the signs all around me.  The book dispelled some of the sayings or explained why others were true.

Mare's tails could be whipping up
heavy rain/snow in a day or so
Building on that base knowledge, over the years I learned that when birds gather to roost, a storm is brewing - unless it's winter and they are sitting on electric wires - then they are probably just keeping warm.  A halo around the moon or sun and mare's tails or fish scales (what the clouds look like) in the sky are usually signs of an approaching storm front.  These three signs can be tricky to decipher, but if you pay attention to height and intensity, you can get pretty good at guessing if the approaching weather is something to be concerned about or not.  One I learned on my own is when the blue herons disappear, expect an extended period of extreme cold and/or a lot of snow over an extended period.  If I had to guess why they disappear, I reckon it's because they need open water to eat.  If cold temperatures and/or a lot of snow is coming that's going to stick around for awhile, they need to move to open water so that they can dine on their favorite food available in the winter - minnows and small fish.

When Stu Kerr was a kid, there was no such thing as satellites and radar.  People still needed to know what the weather would be like tomorrow or the next day so they could plan on when to plant and when to harvest, how much time they would have fishing the waters before needing to get the boats in, or when to stock up the house with firewood or bring the livestock to the barn.  They weren't just plowing the fields or pulling the fish nets in.  They were watching the sky and paying attention to the animals and birds around them.  Knowledge handed down from generation to generation helped them to decipher what they were seeing and make accurate guesses at what the weather would be like tomorrow and even the next day.  It was all of this generational knowledge Stu Kerr was taught that he never forgot despite advancements in technology that allowed him to see the weather that generations before him could never see.  He had a knack for melding the old ways with the new that allowed him to forecast the weather with more accuracy than using the technology alone.

When you're a kid, the world is filled with mysteries to learn.  Stu Kerr set me on a path to learn the old wives' tales of forecasting the weather and I gobbled every bit of it up as I could.  Funny thing happens when you grow up, though.  The world loses its magic and old wives' tales are just something old people tell young people to make them sound smart.  I've probably forgotten more of them over the last three plus decades than I can remember.

With the bust of the Blizzard of 2015, memories of Stu Kerr came back to me.  The technology and the experts were warning us to brace ourselves for a monster storm and I did.  Had Stu Kerr been around, no doubt he'd have said to stay tuned, but don't be too concerned.  There wasn't anything special in the sky, the herons didn't leave, birds weren't roosting, and the deer weren't particularly active trying to eat as much as they could a day or two before a major storm.  Those were all things I should've seen, but didn't pay attention to. 

Over twenty years after his death, he still taught me a lesson.  I need to be a kid, again, and open my eyes.  May he rest in peace.

For the TL;DR folks:

Don't get so wrapped up in new technology that you forget the tried and true old ways.

Related Links:
Another "historic storm" forecast

For your viewing pleasure - Stu Kerr trying to do math

 Bonus track: Stu Kerr aka Professor Kool in story on early kids' show

Posted by Five Drunk Rednecks

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