Passwords: Almanac led the way for Weatherguide Calendar

Sometimes a precise time can be set when a long-term concept is conceived and set into motion. Such a time can be set for the Minnesota Weather Almanac and the Minnesota Weatherguide Environmental Calendar that evolved from it.

It was lunchtime on Tuesday, May 3, 1973, in the Minneapolis Athletic Club main dining room on the 12th floor.

Previously, I had arrived home from the office, quickly looked through my mail, and a single yellow mimeographed sheet caught my eye. I casually read the data right there, was impressed and vowed to call Mr. Bruce Watson, which I did the very next day. Over the phone, we made the luncheon date at the Minneapolis Athletic Club.

Dick Gray

Bruce showed up for lunch-I was early-and he stood in the entrance to the dining room with an armload of black notebooks, a scene not easily forgotten. We barely touched our food and then got down to business.

Bruce, who died in 2004, was a weather fanatic. He lived in Roseville and had been a versatile meteorologist, serving as a weather forecaster for the U.S. Army in World War II. He created climatic models for the Army, Navy and Air Force, and he was a member of the American and Royal meteorological societies.

In Minnesota, his business was weather forecasting for companies like General Mills, Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, companies dependent on weather information to anticipate crops and market conditions. His single yellow sheet of weather information that I had received in the mail was a summary for that month.

After more than two hours of talking and exchanging ideas, we decided to compile and publish a book on Minnesota weather. We agreed he and Freshwater would be co-authors, and I would attempt to bring on board the radio station then dominant throughout Minnesota. That was WCCO, the radio station that supplied listeners with weather-related school closings, the price for pork bellies and the expected market price for a bushel of corn or soybeans. I pulled it off, and WCCO assigned responsibility for their part of the book to Gordy Mikkleson, their public relations executive. We made a good team.

The first step was my paying for Bruce and his son to spend the summer scouring the state for weather data in the files of county agents, police and sheriffs, operators of locks and dams, mining and lumber companies and any other person or organization that could contribute information in their territory regarding weather and its effects. In the process, Bruce updated and solidified his friendship with the Ojibwe Indians, whose terms for weather and climate became an integral part of our weather book.

The Freshwater Society (then the Freshwater Biological Research Foundation) worked closely with WCCO, planning what became the Minnesota and environs Weather Almanac 1975.

The 232-page Almanac was an immediate hit. It was sold in bookstores, gas stations and other outlets that catered to local residents and visitors to Minnesota. With such a hit on our hands, we started planning a 1976 version of the Almanac.

The 1975 Almanac wasn’t only about weather and climate. It contained many details about the rainstorms, tornados, blizzards and high winds that hit Minnesota since people started recording them. There were 20 pages of high and low temperatures. There were graphs of average monthly precipitation, snowfall depths and wind direction and velocity.

This was the kind of information to be expected from a weather almanac, but the lore Bruce provided about the lives and customs of the Ojibwe added a special tone to the Almanac.

While researching data about the Ojibwe, Bruce spent hours with Delores Snook and Duane Chatfield at the University of Minnesota, learning the Ojibwe language and the Ojibwe names for aspects of weather and climate.

I’ve been fascinated by the Ojibwe names for seasonal moons in Minnesota:

January – Sucker – Namebin

February – Crust of Snow – Onabani

March – Snowshoe Breaking – Bebokwedagiming

April – Maple Sugar – Iskigmizige

May – Budding Plants – Zagibaga

June – Strawberry (Heart) – Odelimini

July – Midsummer – Abitanibi

August – Harvest – Minike

September – Wild Rice Harvest – Manominike

October – Falling Leaves – Binakwe

November – Freezing – Gashkadino

December – Descending Cold – Pawatchi

Other Ojibwe terms: Mid-summer – Ishpinibin, West Wind – Ningabianinodin, Drought – Bibinekamagad

Next year, when trying to impress someone, just say: “It’s Ishpinibin with Ningabianinodin and a Bibinekamagad under way. You can say, “I learned those Ojibwe weather and climate words from the Minnesota Weather Almanac.”

One problem with the Almanac was a lack of repeat sales from one year to the next. The Freshwater staff-and Bruce Watson-wrestled with the problem, and the result was the current Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendar, which first appeared in 1977 and now is published with promotional assistance from KARE 11 Television.

The Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendar has every right to be labeled an important Minnesota institution, thanks in part to the Almanac.

Dick Gray, founder of the Freshwater Society, has written the Passwords column since 1968. The columns are based on Gray’s belief that we must use our vast knowledge to work toward the preservation of water.