Published Tuesday, March 16, 1999, in the San Jose Mercury News


Being a weather forecaster doesn't require professional credentials

Q. I find a wide gap in skill level of Bay Area weather forecasters. Is it my
imagination or are some much more educated and experienced than

Sharon Sanders

A. We need to determine what qualifies someone to call himself a
meteorologist. In short, nothing. Neither the state nor federal government
has any licensing or certification requirements. You need a license to cut
hair or drive a taxi, but anyone can call himself a meteorologist.

The American Meteorological Society defines a meteorologist as ``an
individual with specialized education who uses scientific principles to
explain, understand, observe or forecast the Earth's atmospheric
phenomena and/or how the atmosphere affects the Earth and life on the
planet. This specialized education would be a bachelor's or higher degree
in meteorology, or atmospheric science.'' See

Q. Some TV forecasters seem to know more about the weather than others.
What are their credentials? Are they all meteorologists?

Bill Pierce
San Jose

A. Not all are meteorologists, and they have greatly varied backgrounds.

But it's important to keep in mind that their primary role is as
communicators of weather information. And the Bay Area is fortunate
that the age of the weather clowns and buffoons is long past and we have
a very proficient group of on-air forecasters.

Here are brief summaries of the five prime-time weather forecasters in the
Bay Area:

John Farley, KNTV (Ch. 11). While Farley's bachelor's degree is in
business and finance from the University of Massachusetts, he is working
on his master's in meteorology at San Jose State University. He worked as
a student at the National Weather Service and as a weather producer at
KRON (Ch. 4), and joined KNTV in 1996.

Bill Martin, KTVU (Ch. 2). Martin received his undergraduate degree
in geography from the University of California-Berkeley, after which he
spent three years studying atmospheric sciences at San Francisco State.
He also was an intern at KRON and was an on-air meteorologist at KFTY
in Santa Rosa, before moving to KTVU in 1992.

Steve Raleigh, KRON. Raleigh got his bachelor of science degree in
broadcast journalism from Boston University, and then went back to
school and did meteorology course work at the University of North
Carolina. Before coming to the Bay Area in 1990, he was on the air in
Memphis and then Cincinnati.

Brian Sussman, KPIX (Ch. 5). Sussman's background is in
broadcasting, where he began as a disc jockey and then moved into
television. He has extensive meteorological experience, having worked on
the air in Reno, San Jose and Pittsburgh before coming to San Francisco
in 1989.

Spencer Christian, KGO (Ch. 7). The newest member of the Bay
Area weathercaster fraternity, Christian arrived in January after many
years of national exposure on ``Good Morning America.'' His bachelor's
degree is in English from Hampton University, and he briefly taught
school before going into television. He started as a reporter before doing
on-air weather in Baltimore and New York.

Q. I am an avid sailor. The following questions recently came up with my
fellow mariners at the Berkeley Yacht Club. How often are there gale
winds inside San Francisco Bay? How severe are they? Do we get ``line

Tom Bliss

A. Gale force winds (from 39 to 54 mph) occur inside San Francisco Bay
about a half dozen times per year. These events are usually associated
with the strong southerly winds that accompany winter storms. Small
craft advisories are issued for winds from 25 to 38 mph and occur about
100 times per year on San Francisco Bay.

Squalls are strong winds that result from intense downdrafts that come
out of thunderstorms with a wind speed 18 mph greater than the
sustained winds. Because of the relative infrequency of strong
thunderstorms in the Bay Area, there is probably only about one
occurrence on the bay per year.

Q. I have heard that volcanic ash can be measured and traced as it is
dispersed into the air. I am wondering if the same is true of the residue
from bombings around the world. If so, is there any way to measure their
effect on air quality worldwide?

June C. Duran
Pebble Beach

A. The amount of energy and particulate put into the air by bombings is
minuscule compared to volcanoes.

For example, the energy released by the Mount St. Helens eruption in
1980 was more than 100 times that of the Hiroshima atomic bomb and
ejected 100 million cubic yards of material into the air. (Thanks to
geologist Charles Bickel of San Francisco State University Geoscience
Department for this background information.)

Much of this material is heavy and settles out fairly rapidly. However,
smaller particles can be injected into the upper atmosphere and circle the
globe for several months. Generally, the impact from large volcanic
eruptions is to cool the atmosphere slightly as tiny droplets of sulfuric
acid reflect back a portion of the sun's energy before it can warm Earth.

Jan Null, founder of Golden Gate Weather Services, is a retired lead forecaster with the National Weather Service. Send questions to Weather Corner, San Jose Mercury News, 750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, Calif. 95190. You also can telephone and fax them at (510) 657-2246 or e-mail them