The Aerographer’s Advice

August 27, 2010 · 4 comments

Ray Boylan, former chair of the AMS Broadcast Board, who died yesterday at age 76, was a Navy enlisted man who found his way into meteorology by a fluke. Maybe that’s why he never lost a homespun attitude toward celebrity and science that we ought to remember.

Ray Boylan at his first station after retiring from Navy hurricane hunting.

After training at airman’s prep in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1953, Boylan was casting about for the next assignment when he noticed that the Aerographer’s mate school was in Lakehurst, New Jersey—near home and best of all near his girlfriend.

So it was off to New Jersey for a career in meteorology. The Navy service was his only formal training in weather, and included some 2,000 hours as a hurricane hunter flight meteorologist. First assignment—flying straight into Camille in 1969:

Back in those days the Navy had the low level mission and the Air Force had the high level mission. Whatever the lowest cloud level was, we went in below those so that I could see the sea surface to keep the wind just forward of the left wing. That’s how we navigated in. I remember a fellow at a Rotary meeting who asked,

‘How many times do you hit downdrafts?’

‘Just once.’

Realizing that viewers had a realistic yes/no experience with rain, Boylan resisted using PoPs on the air, according to today’s Charlotte Observer obituary:

“I’d rather say, ‘It’s going to be scattered like fleas on a bulldog’s back – and if you’re close, you’ll get bitten.’ Or, ‘like freckles scattered across a pretty girl’s face.’”

Lamenting the hype of local TV news these days, Boylan told the WeatherBrains on their 19 February 2008 podcast,

One of the things I see now, is that every weather system that approaches a tv market is a storm system. Not every weather system is a storm system, but that vernacular is there.

Sometimes the medium gets in the glow of the medium’s eye. It’s kind of a narcissistic thing. The media looks at itself as absolutely invaluable. And it can be invaluable, but not if the media thinks so.

The work of the on air forecaster is not to impress, but in

Trying to get the forecast as right as you possibly can. Building the trust of the audience so that they’ll forgive even when you are wrong, And there’s no one out there in our business who hasn’t been wrong, and won’t be again, including myself. …If you can build that confidence and trust base, they’ll forgive you some of the small ones if you get the big one.

Speaking of building trust, Lakehurst turned out pretty well for Boylan. Fifty-five years later he would say, “The science and the girl are still with me.”

(Click here to download the audio of the full 20-minute WeatherBrains interview with Boylan.)