FAIRBANKS — Ted Fathauer, 66, is retiring today from the National Weather Service after 44 years in the forecasting field, most of that in Fairbanks.
In the 1980s, reporter Kris Capps and news editor Marvin Aronson dubbed him the “Fearless Forecaster,” putting him on the spot with unofficial forecasts in September of what the coming winter would hold. After repeated requests, he gave in to the badgering and tried his luck.
He was fearless for the first time when he predicted a heavy snow year, but it was a good thing people did not invest in snow plows that year because the deep snow didn’t materialize.
For several years, as Capps put it in 1988, he “curbed the urge to make a public prediction about what an entire winter will be like, other than to say that long about December there will be long nights and short days.”
On Sept. 26, 1988, the fearless one said, “It looks real tempting to say that this winter will be milder than normal, with no prolonged extreme cold. ...”
That was one year in which he probably should have stuck with the December forecast for long nights and short days.
The winter of 1988-89 brought 30 all-time low temperature marks to various parts of Alaska. There was a distinct chill in the air.
But before and after the cold snap, temperatures were warmer than usual, raising the average winter temperature to four-tenths a degree above average.
“I was technically right, but that was cold comfort when it was 50 below at the airport,” Fathauer told Capps when he reviewed his 1988-89 forecast.
At times the News-Miner referred to the fearless forecast as a “guess,” but that wasn’t fair. I think it should have been called an educated guess.
With his hard work, day in and day out, Fathauer has done a lot for the National Weather Service and for the cause of science education in our community. Whether it was communicating information about fire weather in the summer or frigid conditions in the winter, he was invaluable in communicating with the public.
In recent years he has worked part time as a forecaster while continuing to learn about the science of the atmosphere. After seven years of academic toil, he completed a master’s degree last summer. But he’s not done yet.
With his official retirement from the National Weather Service, I am glad to report he plans to continue to educate himself about science and to share his insights with others.
His enthusiasm for the study of weather, his curiosity and his eagerness to work with others are unmatched. Like most of us, he has had setbacks along the way, but he has made many outstanding contributions to our state and his heart has always been in the right place.
For decades, he’s been the most trusted name in Fairbanks forecasting. In 2006, on a 40-below January day, I went out with Fathauer and oceanographer Mark Johnson to find the most accurate time and temperature signs in Fairbanks.
Johnson and I wore heavy winter gear, but Fathauer was so carried away with the sense of scientific adventure that he forgot to zip up his jacket.
I have a fearless forecast of my own — the work Fathauer will do in the years ahead will expand our appreciation and understanding of the natural world.
In 2013, he plans to begin work at a doctoral program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The university couldn’t ask for a more dedicated student.
Dermot Cole can be reached at email@example.com or 459-7530.