We called Ben Abell last spring, back when it looked like the region was in for a severe drought, and all that we love about the KWMU (90.7 FM) meteorologist came to the fore. Not only does he serve as the reason to get out of bed in the morning -- listen to Abell's forecast, then it's time to get up -- but he talks about the weather as if he were depicting a dramatic event, or as if he were describing the finer points to look for in a piece of classic cinema, a particular camera angle in Taxi Driver, for instance.
Abell started talking about the possibility of "high pressure in the upper atmosphere, which in turn suppresses precipitation, which in turn suppresses cloud cover." It was like following the plot of King Lear. He used the phrase "high pressure aloft" a number of times, not just because it accurately depicted what he wanted to describe but, it seemed, because of the lovely lilt of the phrase.
Then we asked Abell his thoughts about global warming, and the phrase "paleoclimatic fluctuations" flowed out of him as easy as if he were ordering a ham and cheese on rye. He talked about the Little Ice Age (1430-1850) as if it were a time he fondly remembered. He talked about the colonization of Iceland and Greenland, Leif Ericsson and pack ice.
In relation to the doomsday predictions related to the greenhouse effect, we got to the subject of natural disasters, and Abell disparaged, politely, the Life magazine Top 10 list for the 20th century, a poll he took part in. Abell's choice for No. 1 was the 1927 Mississippi River flood: "When you look at the sociological implications, the racial implications, the political implications -- it propelled Herbert Hoover into the White House, because he was the head of the relief effort down there, where they were feeding about a million people for months, these people who were displaced from their homes."
Abell had more history at his fingertips, describing the worst disaster in terms of loss of life: the hurricane that inundated Galveston in 1900. "The meteorologist in charge," he began the next anecdote, "Cline, C-L-I-N-E, in Galveston, in fact he lost part of his family in that storm. He was the meteorologist in charge in New Orleans during the 1927 flood, and he was one of the ones that thought the levees in New Orleans would hold because the levees to the north would break and a good deal of the outflow would go out another river up there, which paralleled the Mississippi. But he was one of the minority, and the movers and shakers in New Orleans, which meant the movers and shakers in the state at that time, actually dynamited levees downstream on the other side of the river and inundated two parishes, with the promise of Southern gentlemen that everybody would get reparations. And most people didn't get a dime. So much for Southern honor."
So much for proving the Renaissance qualities of Abell. Obviously those few minutes after the hour every day aren't enough to fully admire all that he is. Take Greg Freeman off the air. Give us an hour with Ben.