Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Harry Wappler (1936-2010)
It is with great sadness that I note the passing of Harry Wappler, the dean of Northwest weathercasters for over a quarter century. As many of you remember, Harry was the lead meteorologist on KIRO-TV during the 70s, 80s, and 90s. He was one of the most genuine, kind, warm-hearted individuals I have ever met, and a passionate, enthusiastic member of the local weather community.
I got to know him quite well when I returned to UW to join the atmospheric sciences faculty. Although Harry did not have a degree in atmospheric sciences (he had a B.A. in speech from Northwestern and a graduate degree from Yale Divinity School!), he was an avid student of Northwest weather and I learned a great deal from him about the convergence zone and other local weather features. Harry was the TV weathercaster that I would watch. He was a mainstay of the local weather community and secured substantial funding from KIRO to invite a distinguished meteorologist to town each year. The local chapter of the American Meteorological Society would meet at KIRO once a year and Harry always supplied a nice carrot cake. I still remember that carrot cake fondly.
To give you an idea of Harry's involvement with the community, on November 13, 1981 a major storm was offshore. The numerical prediction technology at that time was fairly primitive and without much skill for such events. Harry had a new-fangled invention that the National Weather Service did not possess: a device that could animate satellite imagery, something we take for granted today. An intense storm was obvious in the animation and headed our way. Harry made a tape of the satellite loop and rushed it to the National Weather Service folks who put out a timely and accurate warning. He could have kept it to himself and smoked the other stations, but that was not Harry's way.
The only time there was a slight bit of tension between me and Harry was when I had my 101 students write down the forecasts of all the local TV stations and scored them compared to the Weather Service. None of the stations were statistically better than the Weather Service, but another station had beaten KIRO. He called my chairman asking about this investigation (probably pushed on by his management). But next time we met, he smiled, told me it was water under the bridge, and we remained very friendly for the rest of his career.
A few times I went out with him in public. Everyone knew him and treated him as a member of the family. They would come up to him and tell their weather tales, and he would listen so intently and with obvious warmth, without ego or pretense. They went away feeling special.
I wish I had talked to him more often after he retired, but I have very fond memories of him, as as I suspect many of you do as well. Harry was a remarkable individual and we are all lucky to have shared some time with him.
Posted by Cliff Mass at 7:50 PM