WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — Weather tracking technology has had massive improvements since KFDX first went on the air 70 years ago.
A couple of familiar faces viewers have welcomed into their homes to keep them safe over the years discussed how forecasting and technology have changed since they graced our screens.
“That wall right there had three maps Texas and Oklahoma, the Midwest and the U.S.,” former KFDX Chief Meteorologist Skip McBride said. “And the only way that you could put anything on it, was to take a Magic Marker and draw the fronts in with Magic Marker. That’s how you did it.”
After the times of using Magic Markers, meteorologists upgraded to magnetic weather symbols. Symbols that McBride might have had a little bit too much fun with.
“We got in serious trouble, Warren Silver who was the general manager at the time, came through the door over here, and we were throwing the weather symbols across the room and getting them to stick on the wall and I swear there was one halfway across,” McBride said. “He [Warren Silver] walked in and said, what’s going on? And it hit the floor. It never made it to the wall.”
Computer graphics were introduced soon after and weather graphics developed rapidly.
“We went with graphics from this little bitty computer, and we progressed to where we are today, which is absolutely amazing.”
Presentation isn’t the only part that has changed. Tornado Warnings are received as soon as they are issued through computers but it was a bit different in the 80s.
“I would be on the air right here and they just stick their head out and go, we got a tornado warning for Archer County and we would report ‘Tornado Warning for Archer County’ that was it,” McBride said.
Severe weather wasn’t the only time that meteorologists relied on others to get their information. Meteorologists relied on members of the community to get their day-to-day weather observations.
“I had weather watchers in the towns they would call in if they got wind and rain, tornado or something like that,” McBride said. “They would call me every day with high temperatures and any winds that they were reported, but they didn’t have any equipment. It was just sight.”
Technology from then to now has changed drastically. Radar has been one of the biggest changes in storm coverage.
“The only thing that we had to look at storms was this little bitty radar, and it was in the hallway back down here with the storm spotters, with Charlie Byers and the storm fighters,” McBride said. “And of course, we’ve progressed now to Doppler and all the stuff that you work with on a daily basis that I sit at home and go, I wish I had that”
Meteorologist Mark Fox, who worked at KFDX from the late 80s to the late 90s, is now the meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma.
Radars have vastly changed since Fox’s time at KFDX.
“The radars now can see instead of just a little smudge on the screen, they can see individual pixels down to about five kilometers or even less,” Fox said.
Radars weren’t the only piece of equipment that received an upgrade. Satellites have also seen technology growth over time.
“The satellites, which when I started, you could only get a satellite image once every hour or so, Fox said. “To do that, you’d have to go over to another machine, download it, take a look at it, and then a couple of hours later, go do that again, download it, check how things have changed”
Satellite technology has improved, a lot.
“These days, you can just call up every 30 minutes or so, and when we’ve got severe weather, it’s down to one minute and the detail is just as good as a, you know, a standard camera you’re seeing from space,” Fox said.
These improvements, plus better observations across the globe have drastically improved forecasting and forecast models. Weather models are an incredible tool, but it’s still up to who wields it.
“The role of the meteorologists is still the same, it’s to interpret what we think is going to happen based on our knowledge, our observations and our expertise,” Fox said. “And I think that’s always going to be there. Just it’s a lot easier to see those highly detailed models these days.”
Over the years, lead times on warnings have increased, forecasting has improved and meteorologists are now able to forecast significant weather events several days out, however, it is likely that weather forecasting will never be exact and precise.
“We’re never going to be able to say, ‘OK it’s your house that’s going to get hit today, or it’s your town or your street’, but we can get people prepared,” Fox said. “The one thing that really hasn’t changed is it’s still up to us at home, knowing what to do, knowing how to act given all of this information that’s coming at you.”
One of the most exciting improvements for the future is the next generation of radars, which will greatly help the future of severe storm coverage.