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Flashes Bring Flood of Calls to Forecasters

September 23, 1987|KATHIE BOZANICH | Times Staff Writer

Unusual weather occurrences are their time in the sun, or storm in this case, but National Weather Service forecasters say they are far too busy updating information and fielding phone calls to revel in the attention.

During extreme weather, the weather service does everything from supplying Lindbergh Field with information so officials can determine flight safety, to reassuring the woman who calls every time she hears thunder, said Wilbur Shigehara, the National Weather Service's meteorologist-in-charge in San Diego.

"More people call during thunderstorms than any other time, and there are a couple of people who call every time there's one," Shigehara said. "High winds, heavy rains, and hail are all potentially more dangerous, but a lot of people are just plain scared of thunder and lightning."

"People just want to talk (and) tell somebody that they're afraid," he said. "Who else can a person talk to in the middle of the night about thunderstorms besides the National Weather Service?"

The forecasters try to comfort people in those instances, according to Shigehara, by telling them what the forecasters know of the storm's patterns and what the weather is expected to be like in the next two or three days.

"We do a lot of monitoring, a lot of tracking," he said. "Based on all that information, we try to put people's minds at ease."

Shigehara estimated that the weather service received 50 to 60 phone calls Tuesday morning alone from people concerned about the storm and wanting information.

"Only 2% to 5% of thunderstorms come in at night here," he said. "They usually die at night because there's not enough heat at night to cause instability. So this really caught people off-guard, and they were calling and saying they've never seen anything like this before.

"They wanted to know how long the storm was going to last, why there was so much lightning, how close was it to their homes. All those kind of things."

Calls From Builders

Besides the general public, the weather service also receives calls from businesses that have a vested interest in what the weather is doing, forecaster Dan Atkin said.

"Construction companies are the biggie," Atkin said. "It always seems like they're scheduled to pour concrete on a day like (Tuesday), or do some roof work. Of course, we tell them there's no way they should be climbing up on a roof while there's thunder and lightning."

Another regular caller during stormy weather is the management of San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, according to Atkin, provided a game or an event is scheduled for that day.

"They base their plans to go ahead or cancel on what we tell them," he said. "The same is true for places like the Starlight Theatre, Sea World, the Wild Animal Park--any place where there are some outdoor activities planned."

"We had this one company called 'Picnic People' call us (Tuesday) morning," Atkin said. "They plan company picnics and such. They wanted to know if they should rearrange their plans for a picnic up in the mountains scheduled for this weekend."

Atkin said he told "Picnic People" the mountain areas should be fair and slightly warmer by Saturday.

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