Celebrating 60 years of Penn State TV weather broadcasts

The year is 1957. The average cost of a gallon of gas is 24 cents. The first Frisbee was sold in January. American Bandstand began airing on ABC in August. Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite, was launched by the Soviet Union in October. June 1957 is also when Penn State produced its first TV weather broadcast, and this month marks the 60th anniversary of televised weather broadcasts by the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences’ (EMS) Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science.

That first forecast was given by Charles Hosler, professor emeritus of meteorology and dean emeritus of EMS.

“Our forecasting abilities were very primitive in the 1950s. There were no computers, no satellites and no radar. You only had surface observations with which to make weather forecasts,” said Hosler in an interview with Jon Nese, senior lecturer and associate head for undergraduate programs in the Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science.

The interview is part of a commemorative feature about Hosler on Penn State’s Weather World program.

Part 1 - Interview with Dr. Charles Hosler

Jon Nese, senior lecturer and associate head for undergraduate programs in the Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science, interview with Charles Hosler, professor emeritus of meteorology and dean emeritus of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. The interview is Part 1 of a commemorative feature about Hosler on Penn State’s Weather World program.

“The chance to speak with Charlie really provided me with an appreciation of how insightful he was to notice that central Pennsylvania residents needed a solid source of weather information during the 1950s,” said Nese, who is a host, feature writer and producer of Weather World. “Charlie knew that the University was the logical place for that to come from.”

Humble beginnings

In his conversation with Nese, Hosler explained how weather forecasting in 1957 was quite different from what many people are used to today.

According to Hosler, who was a forecaster for the U.S. during World War II and had been presenting radio forecasts for a decade, weather forecasting became increasingly important during and after the war for aviation.

“At the time, the weather forecast was usually just a small blurb in the corner of the newspaper,” said Hosler, who was one of only four meteorology professors at the time at Penn State. “But that began to change following the war.”

Hosler said that weather forecasting at the University gained greater visibility after he developed a close relationship with Penn State President Milton S. Eisenhower. Eisenhower often asked Hosler to provide weather forecasts for his trips traveling back and forth to Washington D.C., where his brother, Dwight, served as U.S. president.

The first weather broadcast came from Sparks Building at the University Park campus and was sponsored by the College of Agriculture, now the College of Agricultural Sciences. The studio consisted of only a single camera, a stopwatch, a chalkboard and a desk. Hosler and his students sent the black and white video broadcast to then-news station WFBG in Altoona, Pennsylvania.

“It was a very important public service that we were performing,” said Hosler.

From there, Hosler’s first forecast blossomed into a larger weather program as part of a cooperative effort between Penn State’s new educational television station and the Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science. It has expanded from a six-minute piece, shown during a public affairs program, to a dedicated 15-minute all-weather program, adding in longer-range forecasts and nightly features that demonstrate how the weather works and its role in everyday life.

Part 2 - Interview with Dr. Charles Hosler

Jon Nese, senior lecturer and associate head for undergraduate programs in the Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science, interview with Charles Hosler, professor emeritus of meteorology and dean emeritus of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. The interview is Part 2 of a commemorative feature about Hosler on Penn State’s Weather World program.

60 years of progress for weather forecasting

The role of weather forecasting has changed dramatically since Hosler gave his first broadcast. Modern forecasters use far more dependable computer models and weather satellites.

“In 1957, forecasters primarily used weather balloons and ground observations,” said Nese.

In addition, weather forecasts have become increasingly critical for areas outside of aviation and agriculture.

“Forecasting has taken on a much larger role in the bottom lines for businesses,” Nese explained. “It has become so important we teach a capstone course in the department on the impact of weather on financial markets.”

In fact, the role that Penn State’s Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science has played in the expansion of weather forecasting during the last 60 years cannot be overstated. Many high profile weather forecasters are Penn State alumni, working for companies like the National Weather Service, AccuWeather and the Weather Channel. Undergraduates from the meteorology program have won the North American collegiate weather forecasting competition an unprecedented six years in a row, which speaks to the department’s strong tradition of preparing students to be excellent forecasters.

According to Nese, more than 130 graduates of the department are currently involved with TV weather broadcasting somewhere in the U.S, which he said speaks volumes for the University.

Weather World airs at 5:45 p.m. daily statewide on the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN) and at 5:30 and 5:45 p.m. each weekday on WPSU.

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Last Updated June 27, 2017