All that changed September 27, 1985 when Hurricane Gloria made landfall in Connecticut.
For me, it was a career changing event. It was a chance to let people know, though I might screw around when the weather was nice, I was trustworthy when weather was critical. At least that’s how I saw it.
1984 doesn’t seem so long ago, but it was eons ago in technology and forecasting technique. The possibility of this hurricane came up in a conversation five days before landfall. A friend noted an interesting system and some rudimentary computer guidance brought it vaguely up the coast.
As I remember it today, each successive day continued with the storm on a fairly consistent track.
Looking back, I realize I was a sucker. These forecasts were well beyond the capability of the available models. That they were right was dumb luck!
A few days before Gloria struck, I started sharing my concerns with my boss and he put together a plan. Again, in hindsight we were so innocent. Today, wall-to-wall coverage would begin days before the storm struck. In 1985, with the storm due midday, we planned on running Good Morning America in its entirety!
I stayed after the late news, doing cut-ins through the night. No one was watching, but I was there.
We had little morning news presence back then. I don’t even remember who it was, but a single person produced and reported in the morning.
At 7:00 AM we switched to GMA. Every half hour their meteorologist reported the national weather, including the upcoming hurricane. The graphics on GMA were wrong¹. Every half hour I’d follow Dave Murray, asking the viewers to believe me and not him.
Before long, we were on-the-air non-stop. The station really did an amazing job. I still remember some live shots, especially David Henry’s from Bridgeport, as if they happened yesterday.
Gloria had been a Category 3 hurricane with 125 mph winds, but was a shadow of her former self when she hit Long Island and then Connecticut. Officially, Gloria hit Connecticut with 90 mph sustained winds. Today, I doubt even that number. Whatever it was, it was frightening. Half the state lost power.
My friend Diane Smith lost a beautiful sailboat. Other friends and co-workers would lose trees and power – in some cases for a week or more.
I watched the storm on the Weather Service’s ancient radar. As it approached Connecticut, the eye opened up. We had one eyewall pass overhead and that was it. The southern half of this north moving storm no longer existed.
By nightfall Gloria was gone and Connecticut was picking up the pieces.
A day or two later in the New Haven Register, Carolyn Wyman didn’t talk about my coverage, she wrote about my disheveled hair, wondering if it was an affectation. I was crushed. I wonder if Carolyn (who seems like a nice person) knows I still remember? I wonder if she still feels that way?
On second thought, maybe I don’t want to know.
Hurricane Gloria was where I first realized, no matter how important it made my job, I didn’t want really bad weather to come here. Some forecasters do. Some meteorologists salivate over tornadoes and hurricanes. I, on the other hand, had my fill on that one day.
Years later, Governor (now prisoner) John Rowland told me he was waiting for houses to start blowing through the streets of Waterbury. To some, the storm was a disappointment. To others, especially along the Connecticut shoreline, it was a few hours of terror.
I am looking forward to seeing some of the old video and trying to remember what it was like watching it the first time. I am petrified that among the old clips will be a little cut of me, 20 years younger, looking like I was 15.
¹ – As far as I could tell, a graphic artist preparing the maps traced the correct forecast track. Unfortunately, the line she/he drew wasn’t centered on the pen, but was actually to the right of it. That was common back then.