- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 5, 2002

Local television weathermen start receiving them a few hours after they first drop the word "snow" into their forecasts.
Telephone calls. E-mails. The occasional fax. Some from adults. Most from children. All seeking answers to the same questions: How much will fall? When will it begin? When will it end? And, most importantly, will school be canceled?
The first major snowfall of the season was expected to begin early today and taper off this afternoon. Forecasters are predicting from 3 to 8 inches around the District.
"The closer you get to the date [of a predicted snowfall], the more the calls start pouring in. It can run into 20, 30, 40 a day," said Bob Ryan, chief meteorologist for NBC affiliate WRC-TV (Channel 4) and the dean of local television weathermen.
Perhaps it's because it has been more than a year since the Washington area has seen a good old-fashioned, stock-up-on-the-bread-and-toilet-paper snowfall, but in the past few days, the volume of calls to Mr. Ryan and his brethren at the other stations seems even heavier than usual before a big storm.
The weathermen began rumbling about snow earlier this week. That's when the calls and e-mails started to trickle in. By yesterday afternoon, the forecasters were dividing their time between fielding phone calls from adults and youngsters and studying the computer models that help them devise their predictions.
"The little ones all say, 'Can you please tell me if I'm going to be able to play in snow?' The 12-year-olds and the 13-year-olds say, 'I've got a big test on Thursday. Should I study for it? And oh, yeah, can you tell me about Friday, too?'" said Doug Hill, chief meteorologist for WJLA-TV (Channel 7), the ABC affiliate.
Some kids say the vaguest things.
Topper Shutt, chief meteorologist for CBS affiliate WUSA-TV (Channel 9), received a cryptic e-mail from a youngster asking two questions: Will it snow, and how much?
"He gave no other details, so I had to write back and say, 'Well, if you live in the immediate Washington area, you can expect this,'" Mr. Shutt said.
Sue Palka, chief forecaster for Fox-owned WTTG-TV (Channel 5), said young viewers and some elderly shut-ins ring her phone relentlessly before a big storm. "I do my best to let them know that I don't always have a lot of time. They like to talk and I like to talk, so I have to police myself," she said.
Mrs. Palka, who delivers the forecast on the station's 10 p.m. news, said that she tries to make an exception for young children. "A lot of them say, 'Can you just tell me the forecast now? I'm not allowed to stay up to watch you.'"
Not all the calls and e-mails come from children. One of Mr. Shutt's calls Tuesday came from a snowplow driver.
"People are excited. We have the potential to get more snow [today] than we got during all of last year, and it isn't even winter yet," Mr. Shutt said.
Some forecasters say that they don't mind the calls and e-mails.
It comes with the territory, along with the ribbing they take from local disc jockeys when a forecast goes wrong.
Besides, weathermen were children once, too.
"When I was growing up in Baltimore, there was nothing more exciting than getting a day off school when it snowed," Mr. Hill said.
Over the years, children have given local forecasters some of their best war stories.
Mr. Ryan recalls receiving a fax from a youngster who apparently was frustrated when a series of predicted snowfalls never materialized.
A single statement was scrawled on the fax: "You're ruining my life!"
Mr. Hill once took a call from a child who told him that he had prayed hard for a big storm, but in vain. Mr. Hill told him that he believed a snowfall was likely that night.
As the child hung up the phone, Mr. Hill heard him say, "God, Doug Hill says it's going to snow."
"His voice was trailing off, but you could hear him clearly. It was as if he was saying, Doug Hill is predicting it, so you better come through."


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