The Marginalian
The Marginalian

Blame It on the Weatherman


Every once in a while, we uncover an utterly unexpected and rather bizarre connection between seemingly random and unrelated elements. That’s exactly what University of Pennsylvania grad student Roger Turner has done with his accidental-discovery-turned-thesis about the link between comic books, military training and weather reporting.

In ‘Toon with the Weather is an audio slideshow revealing the fascinating historical reason for why the 8 o’clock weatherman delivers his spiel the way he does.

It all comes down to the IQ of WWII aviators. Turns out, the military hired pilots for their physical ability, sight and mental endurance, not necessarily for their… erm… cognitive capacity. So when said pilots had to be taught basic weather knowledge from meteorological textbooks, the military had to dodge more blank stares and huh’s than they did Nazi airplanes.

The solution, as usual, was to make things simple — so the military borrowed from the emerging comic book culture and decided to use cartoons to illustrate the weather. The pilots got it, the Nazis got theirs, and the military was happy. A whole culture of weather comics was born, full of weather-based characters (think mean bully-like cumulonimbus clouds), humor, even pop culture references to anyone from FDR to Mae West and other pin-up girls.

After the war, many of those first-generation TV weathermen were ex-military meteorologists who decided to present the weather to the general public in the same style they had used to educate the pilots. They used simple maps and cartoon-like imagery, which we still see today — those sun-behind-cloud graphics, red and blue arrows, and rain illustrations that grace the nightly forecast behind the hot chick who looks nothing like a retired WWII pilot.

Some things stay the same, some things luckily change.

Even as the discussion on climate change gets more and more heated, we see the same iconography and graphics used to illustrate the process — take Al Gore’s latest TED talk, chock-full of those same simple shapes and cartoon-like graphic sensibility.

Watch the slideshow and learn something cool to make you sound all intelligent and well-read at the next dinner party.

Published August 1, 2008




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