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.

14 comments:

silverstar98121 said...

The weather reporting is just not the same without him and Andy. I miss them both.

lawrencerice said...

Your words are right on Cliff. We've lost a true gentleman and colleague. Harry Wappler had a quality that is hard to find in TV weather today. He will be missed by so many.
I owe my career to him, as he was the one who helped me get through some of my ATMS course work. and as you mentioned, Harry taught us both some things you'll never learn from a book.

Larry Rice
KIRO Meteorologist 1987-1995

Bob Harrington said...

Thank you, Harry.

May your family and friends find smiles in your memory.

phringo said...

Yes, I certainly grew up with Harry as my weatherman. What a great natural presence he had! Remembering Harry this Earth Day...

Must read blogs said...

He was so accessable to the public when the public had a question and encouraged storm reports. He was the reason I watched KIRO. He will be missed. My sympathy to his family.

iTodd said...

I have good memories of Harry's forecasts in the 80's and 90's. As a memorial, we ought to name the new coastal radar the "Wappler Doppler".

Upupaepops said...

iTodd, that is an excellent idea!!

Emily said...

Beautiful eulogy, Cliff.

Bill Kuhn said...

I first started listening to Harry on WNBC in New York in the early seventies. Imagine how great it was to move to Seattle and discover he'd moved here as well.

Only then did I really start to appreciate him.

We'll miss you, Harry

C.P.O. said...

Thanks for posting this. I grew up with his forecasts and loved watching him on TV. He is missed!

Lindsey said...

It was nice of the NWS forecaster to note his passing in the official Discussion:

"Rest in peace harry. A great meteorologist and an even better person.
Felton"

Frank said...

My introduction to Harry was fascination listening to him on the radio, probably KIRO, in the late 1970's, giving weather reports from 'Harry's Hams.' That was a network of volunteer radio amateurs who fed info to Harry ... until the FCC decided that is was illegal to do such 'commercializing' of amateur radio. Sigh.

Also, I echo others' description of Harry's goodness. A few years ago we were condo neighbors, separated by only a few floors. The elevator was our meteorological discussion meeting place. Such a fine man. RIP

yippykiyae said...

I remember meeting him when I was twelve years old. I was able to see him before his 5pm newscast on Kiro and he spent the time to listen to my interests in weather and he signed a isobar weather map for me. He was a very gentle, kind man and will be greatly missed.

Olivier

Kate said...

I, too, met Harry when I was in grade school. We took a tour of KIRO and he introduced himself to us, showed us around - great guy. I have never forgotten that. Jeff Renner came and talked at my school, too, so I consider my early weather education to be top notch.