Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Traffic and Weather Together

 In 1982, the Weather Channel went on the air, providing a ready source of weather information around the clock and providing a career opportunity for Warren Madden, Class of '85. The early versions of TWC, which didn't have nationwide radar coverage and were kind of choppy in their reportage, nevertheless were a marked improvement over what was then available. In the '70s, weather radar, when it was available on the local newscast, was monochrome white-echoes-on-a-black-background, refreshed by a slow sweep. Color radar would not start appearing on local television until the early '80s, and when it did, those stations that had it promoted it to high heaven. In the '70s, weather radar, even in its grainy form, was something of a novelty. But it had the same drawbacks as today's modern air traffic control system has, which was that there was a tendency for "ground clutter" to appear on the radar picture, sometimes interfering with echoes showing actual areas of rain.

About the same time weather radar became the fashion on television, traffic broadcasts from a helicopter were added to broadcast radio. Now, they have all sorts of enhancements, including stationary CCTV cameras that broadcast freeway congestion to central monitoring stations or even your laptop, if you know where to look. Google can even show you the level of congestion on the major thoroughfares - which is handy, since it allowed me to figure out which roads were passable when one of those Nor'easter snowstorms hit in January. People still drive like maniacs in the snow, but at least you can get a little advance warning.

Those early traffic copters were little helicopters that looked like bugs. They were annoying as bugs, and I'm not talking about the sound of the rotors. Occasionally, you'd get a traffic jock who'd feel like bantering with the DJ, and that meant that they would tell you nothing about the wreck that was causing the backup that you had been sitting in for the last twenty minutes. Not much has changed on that front...

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