Chester Martin Remembers The Vagaries Of Weather

Saturday, February 27, 2016 - by Chester Martin
Chester Martin is front and center in this photo from the very snowy winter of  1940-41
Chester Martin is front and center in this photo from the very snowy winter of 1940-41

One day in 1946, two of us sixth graders from Sunnyside Elementary School hailed Mr. Clarence R. Kallquist with the question, "Hey, Mr. Kallquist, what's the weather gonna be like tomorrow?" The friendly gentleman looked thoughtfully skyward and directed our attention to a puffy little white cloud floating above us. THAT cloud would, he proclaimed, by tomorrow, develop into a thundercloud, and we most likely would have a rainy afternoon with possible thunderstorms.

Clarence Kallquist was Chief Meteorologist at our Chattanooga weather bureau at Lovell Field, and his house was on one of our walking routes to and from school. His forecasts were heard  every day on all our local radio stations, starting at 6 a.m. He would then be home by the time our school was out in the afternoon.

His Bureau had the most modern instrumentation of the day, but his weather maps were all hand-drawn here locally, based purely on barometer and thermometer readings from all over the country. All weather bureaus of the day operated similarly. Those data came in either by radio or teletype. No radar yet could peer out to see what weather might be approaching from Monteagle Mountain or Nashville, and no satellite yet existed to show the big national picture. In short, his methodology, though highly accurate, was little better than that of centuries earlier, and amounted to little more than educated guesswork.

I am amazed by inventions of the last 20 years or so: most notably the "Vipir" radar feature which can spot a fierce storm or tornado while it is still miles away,  and predict where it will be in three minutes, seven minutes, or 14 minutes exactly! Such inventions have saved many lives, I am sure, as well as property. How my ancestors could have benefited from such modern innovations! They farmed an area in south Walker County, very close to Pigeon Mountain. There were not yet any radio forecasts to speculate what weather might be coming over the mountain, and they probably watched that mountain top much as the citizens of Pompeii watched Vesuvius in ancient times.

One of my dad's brothers had chosen to remain on the farm - the last of his family to remain a farmer. He struggled through the Depression years - which was bad enough - but then he faced year after year of drought. His crops would literally burn up in his fields. The weather did not co-operate and he really suffered. He was not unique, for sure, as the entire community was affected.

And we still cannot do anything about it! We can predict it far better on a short-term basis nowadays, but have problems with the big picture. I am thinking especially of the recent Hurricane Joaquin that embarrassed armies of "expert" weather men with their "state-of-the-art" equipment from the big networks, whose models predicted that Joaquin would "go up the east coast to virtually destroy all of DC, Philly, NYC and possibly Boston." Then, as we all remember, it turned right and went merrily out to sea, harming nothing more than a few ships.

Dire predictions and prognostications abound, but it is impossible to tell which ones to heed or  which to ignore. If Man has the ability to mess the weather up, then I declare him a total Failure for doing so bad a job! We had horrendous snowfalls and extreme cold weather with deep snows back in the 1940's, and we also had winters with not one snowflake. Summers have always had blistering heat waves and prolonged droughts. The great "dustbowl" episode in American history was just before my time of consciousness, but it finally ended and things normalized.

And that is the point I am trying to make: the weather is simply unpredictable, and Man has little to do with it. If  the professional meteorologists did not have El Nino (sorry, folks, my keyboard does not have Spanish letters), to blame, they would have invented it to help them explain why they got their predictions all wrong. La Nina also suspiciously happened along just in time to save them from yet new blunders. I wonder how those two new "weather apps" came along, just in time to save their day, as Clarence Kallquist did not have them to get him out of jams in HIS day!

To my way of thinking - and as the best rule of thumb I can go by - Spring has always been beautiful (even after late frosts), Summer has always been disagreeably hot (especially before the days of air-conditioning), Fall has always come along just in time to get our minds off the summer's heat, and has been beautiful in spite of a dry summer. Winter has always been cold with a sudden unexpected day or two of spring-like weather. Mankind definitely has done very poorly in upsetting that scheme! Old friend Clarence Kallquist would look askance at all the lack of progress in long-term forecasting.

I know all about late freezes in the orange groves of Texas and Florida, etc., but those are just the unpredictable quirks of Nature. I have seen no appreciable weather change in my first 80 years; come back in another 80 and I'll let you know about any changes I may have seen in that interim. You get my point I think!

(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at )


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