Isaac or not, the business of weather is booming

News reports for Tropical Storm Isaac appear on screens ahead of the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Kai Ryssdal: Isaac is now officially a hurricane, headed for the coast of Louisiana sometime tonight. So weather forecasts and weather people are getting a whole lot of screen time right now.

But that's only one part of the weather industry working overtime. Marketplace's Eve Troeh reports.

Eve Troeh: For New Orleans, there's still only one -- and he was the best: WWL's Nash Roberts.

Nash Roberts (archived tape): The people east of the river are having high tides now and it'll continue to rise.

With just a map and a black marker, he tracked hurricanes with a calm, even tone. No graphics, no drama.

Nash died in 2010. Right now on Twitter, you can read posts like these: "I wish Nash Roberts could send us a magic marker forecast from heaven." Or "All these spaghetti models tell me is that I really miss Nash Roberts."

But TV was just one part of Roberts' job. For more than 50 years, he also predicted weather for oil and gas companies. Private weather consulting is a vast part of meterology that, even during a hurricane, the public doesn't see.

Sara Croke runs a forecasting firm out of Kansas City.

Sara Croke: Weather or Not Incorporated.

Companies hire her to tell them if they should send home their construction crews. Or, if the Royals have a home game:

Croke: Is the rain a delay or a showstopper?

I asked Palm Beach weather consultant David Spiegler if private clients get to know more than the public.

David Spiegler: Well they don't get a better picture of where the landfall of a storm is going to be, but they do get a better picture of how it's going to affect them.

If the National Weather Service is like a daily horoscope, a private weather service is like a tailored reading just for you. Businesses pay for the minute-to-minute details most people don't care to know.

William Brune heads the Meteorology Department at Penn State. Undergrads there can study meteorology for business.

William Brune: They learn about economics, finance, risk. So they can talk to MBAs and work with them in a team.

So instead of heading to the weather service, or following in the footsteps of great weathermen like Nash Roberts, more meteorologists find themselves doing weather for the bottom line.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.
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It took me until yesterday evening to be able to hear the podcast but it was well worth the wait. Thank you for bringing the tape of Nash Roberts! As someone who was born and breaded in New Orleans I grew up watching Nash's forecasts and there's not a meteorologist who can claim to be his equal. The beauty of Nash is that he didn't need a lot of fancy equipment (at least not on the air), all he needed were his maps and his markers and he not only got the forecast right way more than not, he also told us what to expect in a way that we actually got what he was trying to tell us. Not even Al Roker can hold a candle to our beloved Nash.

Made my day, too, Eve! All bow to Nash! I asked on Facebook just the other day, "Where's Nash Roberts when you need him?" For many, many years after Nash had retired, WWL brought him (and his marker) back just for hurricanes, probably to the great chagrin of his successors. Before he worked at WWL, he had also been the meteorologist at both of the other network stations in town at the time, WVUE and WDSU. In 1998, he ticked off all the other meteorologists AND the NHC when he insisted to the TV audience that Georges was not anything for N.O. to worry about, while they all said it was headed straight for us. And he was right. Such a joy to hear him get a nod on Marketplace.

Oh Eve, thank you so very much for bringing back a wonderful memory for me! I grew up in New Orleans, and went through a lot of hurricanes with Nash Roberts, including Betsy, Camille, and more. My grandmother never referred to it as "the weather", so always said, "Nash says....". We moved to New Jersey in 1988, and when my husband got home today the first thing he said, "Did you hear the piece about Nash on NPR?" You made our day and put a big smile on our face!

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