A. Showalter Dies; Poetic Weatherman
Albert K. Showalter, a meteorologist who often apologized in verse for inaccurate forecasts of Los Angeles weather, has died in Virginia, his wife reported this week.
The former head of what was then the Southern California office of the U.S. Weather Bureau--now the National Weather Service--was 78 and had retired in 1972 after 43 years of weather forecasting for the government, seven of them (1946-1952) in Los Angeles.
Showalter’s tenure in Los Angeles was marked by a growing awareness of smog, and he was among the first to provide visibility forecasts as cars and industries were starting to be blamed for a mounting blanket of pollutants.
But he became better known for his honesty and wit when his predictions went awry, once Teletyping local newspapers about a storm that had failed to materialize:
Last night we saw upon the air
A little storm that wasn’t there.
It wasn’t there again today.
Now how did that storm get away?
In addition to apologies, he also penned poetic predictions. This one for the 1951 Hollywood Bowl Easter sunrise service:
At Easter dawn the sun will shine;
No rain, no smog, no dew.
And if to hills you plan to climb,
‘Twill be a brilliant view.
Not surprisingly, he may have been the most frequently published Los Angeles poet of the time.
In an era when local saloons were closed on Election Day, he once notified the media that “the bars may be closed in Los Angeles today, but it is really dry in Las Vegas. Relative humidity there is only 2%.”
He said his predilection for simple honesty came from his family. He was one of 13 children born to an Iowa farmer, and “you learn that it is as easy to explain something simply to your fellow man as to try and baffle him with your superior knowledge.”
A mathematics and science graduate of Loras College in Iowa, Showalter joined the Weather Bureau in 1929 and went to work in the air mass analysis section of the bureau’s Washington headquarters.
He did research on prospective floods for the Army Corps of Engineers and then came to Los Angeles, where he was considered a national expert on rainfall forecasting. But, as he liked to observe, there was not one major storm during his tenure here.
At a time when space satellites existed only on the comic pages, Showalter’s forecasts were based primarily on three weather ships in the Pacific and observations by aviators as they flew to the West Coast.
He left Los Angeles in 1953 and spent the balance of his career on the East Coast, where he was instrumental in setting up President Lyndon B. Johnson’s International Conference on Water for Peace in 1967.