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In 1996, big snowstorms didn’t get fancy names on social media. All we had back then was Bob Ryan.
As the blizzard of ’96 (still the third-largest three-day snowfall in recorded D.C. weather history, despite Snowmageddon and its ilk) approached, Ryan was getting punchy. A day or two before the snow arrived, I was home from college, watching the news with some friends in one of their parents’ basements. I don’t remember exactly what Ryan said, and I haven’t been able to dig up any video online of the broadcast I have in mind, but 17 years later, I still remember marveling at the tone he struck on the air that night: One part alarmed, one part a little overwhelmed, three parts very, very, excited about the weather we were all about to experience.
Because Ryan has always been a meteorologist first and a TV personality second. (His fellow meteorologists, who made him the only TV weatherman president of the American Meteorological Society in 1993, agreed.)
His presence on the air—a little geekier and more awkward than your standard-issue anchor—made him iconic in his three decades at Channel 4. His move to Channel 7 in 2010 as part of the launch of the now-defunct TBD.com was big news, even beyond the media reporting beat. Along with Jim Vance and Doreen Gentzler and the late George Michael, Ryan had been part of what turned 4 into an unstoppable force in local TV news. But his retirement, announced yesterday, showed that Ryan, even at 70, still isn’t one to rest on his laurels; part of the reason, he told the Washington Post, was disappointment over the failure of TBD and the end of WJLA-TV’s experiment in digital news.
These days, like more and more Washingtonians, I don’t watch the 11 o’clock news that often, preferring to watch The Daily Show or read. And when I do, also like most Washingtonians, I usually turn to Channel 4, not 7. But I faithfully follow Ryan on Twitter, where his personality is exactly the same as it is on the air. And when the weather drifts over the boundary from small-talk topic to bona fide news—like when Hurricane Sandy menaced last fall—I still flip over to 7 just to hear from the master. Nothing against Doug Kammerer, of course, but when things get primeval outside, it’s reassuring to hear from the guy who’s been telling you about the weather most of your life.
Finally, as we all begin to ponder a D.C. TV world without daily Ryan appearances, here’s a look at his explanation of weather forecasting circa 1977, when he worked for Boston’s WCVB. Spoiler alert: It involved facsimiles from Washington: