WEATHER GURU | Just like the weather, times have changed

Garth Sampson
Garth Sampson

The day has arrived, and by the time you read this column I will have worked my last day at the SA Weather Service, a journey of 42 years.

I will however now be more actively involved in weather, social media, my column and hopefully some other articles for your favourite newspaper.

To take you on this journey could involve writing an epic novel of the length of a James A Michener, so here are some isolated memories.

Reading a mercury barometer was my first challenge as it is pretty much like reading a vernier caliper, with the one notch that lines up giving the decimal.

Today we have passed even the digital barometer and thermometer stage and everything is automatically recorded on sophisticated computers.

Then, everything was in numerical code. This I later learnt was so that it broke the boundaries of language when reporting on the weather.

My first encounter with a computer was an old HP “oversized calculator” that had 4k memory and worked with a cassette and machine code.

A total of 16 Gig is a minimum memory requirement today. That was the days before the Commodore 64, the XT and AT computers.

It started with 360K “floppy disks”, then we moved to 1.44 MB “stiffies” and then everything exploded with the arrival of the internet.

Before that only the telex and telephone (landline) were at our disposal.

Reams of paper and ticker tape were always littered over the telex room floor.

Airports, where weather offices were, had a system of pneumatic tubes which propelled cylindrical containers, containing messages, through networks of tubes by compressed air to other parts of the building, such as the control tower.

The Garlicks store in Main Street and some banks had similar systems.

Inflating weather balloons at 2am, no matter what the weather, was the order of the day.

There was no excuse for not getting a data set from the night’s ascent; if you did not you suffered the wrath of your seniors.

Working most weekends and shifts and not being off on Christmas or New Year’s Day was my destiny for the first 15 years of my career.

Synoptic and upper air charts were plotted by hand and were one of the few instruments used in forecasting.

Later very crude models started to arrive on the telex and had to be plotted before they could be used.

Satellite images took hours to be received on a specialised machine.

We have almost progressed to the stage where, like mercury barometers, synoptic charts are becoming an arcane tool of yesteryear, with computer models being the rage of the day.

The art and romanticism of weather observations and forecasting are slowly starting to fade away into the winds of change, with all the weather models and apps out there.

How great it was to have experienced the days of the weather-washed weatherman.

Combined dam levels:

Algoa System: 69.99% down from 70.77% last week.

This week in history:

1994: Severe hail causes widespread damage in De Aar.

Weather Safety Tips:

As soon as a hailstorm starts, stop your vehicle as large hail can crack your windscreen and impair your vision.

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