Once again, my wife has made has made one of my fantasies come true.
Now before you get all hot and bothered, let me explain. It's an essential truth that people are fascinated by weather and predictions pertaining to it. That's why the weather gets such a remarkable amount of attention during local news broadcasts. I can perhaps relate to it more than most because, like medicine, the delivery of a forecast (or prognosis) is art bolstered by science. And half the fun is watching the art of delivery.
So everybody likes weather. We know that. Truism number two is that people — particularly men — love aviation. Not that everybody likes to fly, but it's rare to find someone who isn't at least intrigued by the concept. These basic truths are inextricably linked and, quite honestly, if I weren't doing what I already do, it would be very easy for me to imagine flying airplanes or somehow being involved with meteorology. I know it's a stereotype, but an honest one. Accordingly, my true confession for the day is that I'm a bona fide weather nerd and that my secret fantasy would be the life of a professional meteorologist.
Josh Marthers, the 29-year-old Spartanburg native and Mississippi State grad who is a usual weekday morning weather anchor on WCBD-TV, has impressed me over the years with his high-energy delivery, spontaneity and down-to-earth sense of humor. He's the kind of guy who seems to be having more fun than a working stiff ought to have, and that's probably because he doesn't consider what he does as work — but fun.
“You need to call Josh and hang out with him for a morning and then write a column about it,” my wife suggested.
I couldn't imagine he'd want to be bothered, so I kind of let it go. Undeterred, she contacted him, got a phone number, gave me the information and said that he was awaiting my call.
Seriously?! This is fantastic but way too easy, I thought — until I got instructions from Josh about what time to show up.
“OK, here's what I want you to do,” Marthers instructed in matter-of-fact but friendly tones. “We go on the air at 5 o'clock, and I need you here at the studio by 3:30.”
Recalling Woody Allen's famous observation that 90 percent of life is showing up, I dragged myself out of bed at 2:30 a.m., got ready and raced out of the house with a cup of coffee at about 3:10. There was no traffic going up Coming Street and the Cooper River Bridge was spectacularly empty with no cars in front of me and only two going in the opposite direction.
It took me just 14 minutes to get to the studio. At exactly 3:30 Josh Marthers pulled up, greeted me with a warm handshake, exchanged pleasantries, briefly lamented his beloved Mississippi State baseball team having lost the College World Series, and then ushered me inside to the Weather Center, where he started putting together the computer-generated graphics that would illustrate the prevailing weather patterns — as I sat there pestering him with 1,001 questions.
“Is it true that there's a band called 'Fowler's Moustache'?” (Yes.)
“Did you know we have four guineas that have moved into our neighborhood, and that two are named Roberta and Fowler?” (Blank stare.)
“What explains the current weather pattern with all this moisture?” (Overactive PNA system.)
“What's PNA? Pain in the...?” (The Pacific/North American teleconnection pattern.)
I'm sure it wasn't long before I was getting to be a PNA (and I didn't really ask such annoying questions — for the most part), but Josh couldn't have been more accommodating, particularly for a guy whose biorhythms must be somewhat catawampus, and yet who loves the morning shift, the science of meteorology and delivering the word (as messenger — not manager — he's quick to clarify). And who does all this without any notes.
Good meteorologists seem to have that gift when — at the stage director's signal — the right words just spill out.
“How do you do that?” I ask.
“I really can't explain it,” he admits. “It just happens.”
“Sort of like the weather.”
Well, now that I'm privy to such information, I've concluded that I probably wouldn't make it in that line of work. Unless my remarks are well-rehearsed, memorized or scripted, they're not going to happen — or at least won't come out with the seamless fluidity of a professional broadcaster who can extemporaneously sing the forecast like a silver-tongued nightingale.
My visit to the studio was over before I knew it. Before leaving, though, I had to inquire about employing the Marthers Muggy Meter, a 5-point comfort scale. For the rest of you weather nerds, here's how it's done: Take the average forecast dewpoint over the next 24 hours, subtract 55 and then divide by 4.
For example, say the average predicted dewpoint will be 71 percent. Seventy-one minus 55 equals 16. Sixteen divided by 4 equals 4, and 4 on the 5-point Marthers scale equals “Muggy,” whereas a 1 would be “Nice and Dry,” 2 “Comfortable,” 3 “Slightly muggy,” and 5 “Super Muggy.”
For convenience, if the average dewpoint is predicted to be 73 or higher, it's an automatic 5, and if it's below 55, it's an automatic 1.
And that's part of the world according to Josh Marthers, whom I thank (along with the rest of the crew) for a fun and educational morning and who, as I'm sure he knows, is living the dream!
Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.