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Meteorologists rain on claim of forecaster

September 30, 1990

By Doug Clark
The Spokesman-Review
and Spokane Chronicle

Stay tuned, folks, for Doug’s pinpoint forecast:

Today, KXLY television’s Steve Mumm is in for some stormy weather as competing Spokane weather casters and a representative of the National Weather Service rain buckets on his parade.

At issue is Mumm’s claim that he is a meteorologist In fact, KXLY promotional spots regularly gush that Mumm is the town’s ONLY on-air meteorologist

But KHQ’s Susan Soltero and KREM’s Peter Colford say Mumm is full of hot air. His use of the term, the weather casters say, misleads the public and is professionally unethical.

“With the kind of experience and educational background Steve has, well, if I had the same credentials I would not call myself a meteorologist,” says Soltero. “I’d still be what I am, a weather reporter and there’s no shame in that.”

Colford couldn’t agree more.

“I’m not gonna bad-mouth Steve because maybe it’s the station management making him do it. But I could never purport to being something that I’m not.”

Mumm, as you might expect, defends his use of the highfalutin title.

Although he says his college bachelor’s degree is in broadcast journalism, he adds he has fulfilled all membership requirements of the Boston-based American Meteorological Society, which gave him its seal of approval last May.

In earning that seal, Mumm passed 20 credit hours of introductory college meteorology courses. In addition, Mumm says he has trained with experienced meteorologists and routinely interprets a variety of weather data – fed to KXLY by high-tech equipment – to make his own forecasts. “I’m really proud of what I do,” he says. “I take my job and my profession very seriously.”

That’s certainly swell, but does it make him a meteorologist?

Ken Holmes, the National Weather Service chief meteorologist in Spokane, doesn’t think so. “I wouldn’t view anyone with freshman or sophomore course work as a meteorologist.”

Holmes believes a four-year meteorology degree or a related science degree with additional meteorological course work is minimal. An exception would be someone who has spent years being trained in a military weather program.

The trouble with the American Meteorological Society, he adds, is that it is a toothless organization. It makes no effort to police its membership on who’s qualified to use the term.

“It’s a very scientific process, meteorology,” says Holmes. “It’s very heavy in math and very technical.”

True enough. But part of the problem here is that there is no legal standard for using the meteorologist title. It’s not like being a doctor or lawyer or some other licensed profession. Anybody with an umbrella and sense enough to use it can be a self-proclaimed expert.

And what about Aunt Tilly’s rheumatism that always acts up just before it rains? Or the woodsy geezers who every fall predict the severity of winter based on the length of a caterpillar’s fuzz?

Despite the advance of science and all its glory, forecasting the weather, much of the time, is a stab in the dark.

“I guess the only saving grace in this,” jokes Soltero, is that most of the time we’re all wrong.”

But Soltero and Colford do make a strong point that has been echoed by other degreed meteorologists and journalists across the nation: Those who earn a living giving weather reports on television shouldn’t dupe the public into thinking they’re more qualified than they are.

Both Soltero and Colford are associate members of the American Meteorological Society. Soltero has taken 10 credits of introductory college weather classes and plans to get the AMS seal. Every day, Soltero and Colford examine practically the same weather data that Mumm sees.

Legally, they’re as welcome to the meteorologist title as Mumm, yet neither feels the need to be so pompous.

“They obviously have some integrity,” says Ken Aucoin, a meteorologist for WVUE-TV in New Orleans.

Aucoin really is a meteorologist. He earned his degree from the University of Florida. His partner, Bob Breck, got a meteorology diploma from the University of Michigan.

They both sweated through physics and calculus classes to graduate and they’re both steamed at what they call a national trend by many TV weather reporters to call themselves meteorologists.

“We’ve seen the courses they take in those 20 hours,” says Aucoin. “It’s so basic it’s unbelievable.”

Last July, Breck was moved enough to write his U.S. congressman, Rep. Billy Tauzin. Breck asked him to help put a stop to what he sees as an insult to his profession. “The title meteorologist implies knowledge,” he wrote. “The viewing public is deceived when people use that title without the proper credentials. It is a widespread practice that is out of control.”

Tauzin hasn’t written back. But even if he does, Breck’s not optimistic.

After all, everybody knows you can talk about meteorology all you want. You just can’t do very much about it.

Sunday, September 30, 1990



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