Sun Sets on St. Louis Weatherman's Long Career After 35 unpaid years on St. Louis public radio, KWMU meteorologist Ben Abell is retiring. Those years have featured succinct and thoughtful forecasts from the professor of meteorology at St. Louis University.
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Sun Sets on St. Louis Weatherman's Long Career

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Sun Sets on St. Louis Weatherman's Long Career

Sun Sets on St. Louis Weatherman's Long Career

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Today, listeners to public radio in St. Louis are tuning in for a last bit of crucial information from a familiar, trusted voice.

Mr. BEN ABELL (Meteorologist, KWMU): Partly cloudy on Monday, the high in the low 80s and increasing clouds on Tuesday. Again, the high in the low 80s. From St. Louis University, I'm meteorologist Ben Abell.

BLOCK: Since 1972, Ben Abell has been volunteering as the weather forecaster for KWMU. He's 75 now, and has decided to leave the airwaves. But he's keeping his job, teaching meteorology at St. Louis University. In the past, Ben Abell could be heard on other stations, including the AM powerhouse KMOX.

Last year, he was listed in the St. Louis Radio Hall of Fame. I spoke with Ben Abell earlier today. He told me he's been fascinated by weather since he was a child.

Mr. ABELL: I had a great-grandfather who was really almost my best friend. And he would take me around. We had some major flooding in the Washington, D.C. area where I lived. He would take me around. Show me that. We would have hurricanes that would come very close to us. And then the icing on the cake was working on my uncle's farm during the summer. I would move to his tobacco farm. And there, you can really see what the weather can do, either for you or against you.

BLOCK: So when you're putting those forecasts together, what - how do you do that? What are you drawing on?

Mr. ABELL: Well, I'm drawing on years and years and years of experience, but I also use computer models. And a lot of times, I'll disagree with them, and I should because they're giving me different numbers. A had a case about a week ago, looking at a high-temperature forecast, looking at two computer models, and there was an 18-degree difference in high temperature for the day. So you really have to learn to bring your experience into it - sometimes there are victories and sometimes there are defeats.

BLOCK: It sounds like you have to trust your, well, more than your gut, but it's some sort of instinctual thing you have at this point?

Mr. ABELL: I think it becomes ingrained after a while. And I try to look at the progress of our students. I have a forecast course. It's a capstone course, the last semester of their senior year. And I can gradually see them stopping this complete reliance on computer models and - are acquiring some experience. And as a result you can see this progress, and that's real pleasing to me when you see that happening. In that way you see the students grow.

BLOCK: Mr. Abell, I've been hearing about one of your signature phrases.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ABELL: I know what it is.

BLOCK: Yeah.

Mr. ABELL: I can't rule it out. I can't rule something out.

BLOCK: Yeah. You worked that in a lot, I guess?

Mr. ABELL: No. Not all the time. But for example, on the forecast for today, I'm looking at another weather system coming out tonight. It's going to move by to our south. I fully expect most, if not all, of the precipitation, to be light, to be to the south of our forecast area.

However, I can't rule it out completely, so I put in then a remark saying a very slight chance of light rain showers tonight, mainly to our south and mainly during the evening hours.

BLOCK: Yeah. I like that. It's a humbling thing, I think.

Mr. ABELL: Well, it's the truth, you know. That's the best I can do.

BLOCK: When I was looking at the postings that KWMU has put on their Web site from listeners who've been listening to you many, many, many years, there were a few people who mentioned that they would be at home in the morning - or maybe the night before - in the winter, hoping and praying for a snow day. And they would know that if Ben Abell said it was going to snow that there was an excellent chance that they would be having a snow day.

Mr. ABELL: I'm glad to hear that. I know we had a snow situation going back to 19 - I think it was '82. And I was doing the forecast on a Friday, and I was expecting precipitation Saturday and Sunday. I got the rain, a lot of rain - I was happy. And I had it changing over to snow Saturday evening early. Again, I was happy. And then lo and behold, I estimated four to, I think, six inches, and I got the four to six inches and it kept snowing and it kept snowing.

And officially at the airport, they had, I think, 16 or 17 inches. At my location, there were 24. So I can proudly say I got the first four.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Well, no one could take that away from you.

Mr. ABELL: Nope.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Abell, I know you're going to be very much missed on the air there in St. Louis. Enjoy your retirement.

Mr. ABELL: Well, thank you very much. But it's not a complete retirement. I'm staying with the university, and I hope I have a few years left with them.

BLOCK: Dan Abell. His last forecast there today after 35 years on public radio station KWMU in St. Louis.

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