Fred A. Davis Jr., a former National Weather Service meteorologist who made area weather history with an incorrect forecast ahead of the Blizzard of ‘79, died of complications from dementia Sunday at the Hospice of the Chesapeake. He was 89 and lived in Pasadena.
“Fred was good and in order to be a meteorologist in charge and have that position, you are required to have a lot of knowledge and he did,” said Marian Peleski, previously meteorologist in charge at the Wilmington, Delaware airport and a longtime friend and colleague.
“When you have that position, you are also in charge of the weather for the state of Maryland. It’s a big and important job,” said Ms. Peleski, who is now retired. “He had a great sense of humor and humanity, which made him a great asset to our group.”
Fred Alvin Davis Jr., son of Fred A. Davis Sr., a draftsman, and Margaret Rossiter Davis, a college food service supervisor, was born and raised in Brockton, Massachusetts.
A 1951 graduate of Brockton High School, Mr. Davis in 1953, upon the advice of an uncle who was in the military and weather service, enlisted in the Army.
His introduction to meteorology came when he served for three years in the Army’s Artillery Ballistics Meteorology programs at Camp Chaffee in Arkansas, at Fort Sill in Oklahoma and in Fairbanks, Alaska.
One of his duties was sending aloft weather balloons to record temperature, humidity, air density, and wind speed/direction — information that was needed to direct anti-aircraft fire.
“When the anti-aircraft machines would miss their targets, they would blame the weatherman. This is where I started getting used to being blamed for the weather,” Mr. Davis wrote in a biographical profile.
After being discharged from the Army, Mr. Davis began his college studies on the GI Bill at Florida State University in Tallahassee, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1962 in meteorology.
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He began his career as a weather forecaster in the Boston Weather Bureau at Logan Airport in Massachusetts as an intern, and in 1962, he and another intern were given the choice of going to the Rockefeller Center bureau in Manhattan, or to Byrd Airport, now Richmond International Airport, in Virginia.
His colleague had one day’s seniority over him and chose New York City. Mr. Davis was sent to Richmond.
In 1966, he was promoted to meteorologist in charge of the U.S. Weather Bureau at Toledo Express Airport in Ohio. Three years later he became a principal assistant for the Baltimore Weather Service Office at what was then Friendship Airport, now BWI Marshall Airport.
Mr. Davis was promoted in 1973 to meteorologist in charge at the airport.
“Fred had a lot of responsibility. You are continually in contact with TV and the media by telephone with weather information as well as being in touch with local jurisdictions regarding preparedness and this is done through watches and warnings,” Ms. Peleski said.
Mr. Davis was blessed with broad shoulders and a good sense of humor, both of which served him well in absorbing the inevitable barbs and criticisms that came his way regarding his profession.
His sense of humor was severely tested Feb. 18, 1979, when a monster storm barreled east out of Western Maryland. It became known as the Presidents Day storm or the Blizzard of ‘79.
He had called for a light dusting of snow, but by the time the storm blew out of Maryland the next day, Baltimore was covered with 24 inches.
Gov. Harry R. Hughes ordered a state of emergency while Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer placed the city under a curfew after looting broke out. Trains and buses were canceled or hours late. The airport ceased operations.
Schools, banks and businesses were shuttered while 80% of the MTA’s bus fleet was stranded as city crews struggled to plow streets.
In its wake, storm damages reached $300 million with five dead.
The head of runway maintenance at the airport chided Mr. Davis by saying, “You guys missed that forecast by a mile,” to which Mr. Davis replied, “No, we only missed it by two feet,” according to a 2007 article in The Sun.
“I still get blame for that one,” he told the newspaper. “Geez, you’d think by now the statute of limitations would have run out, but I guess not.”
“We all have those moments and it’s one of life’s regrets,” Ms. Peleski, said with a laugh. “When you’re right, no one remembers, and when you’re wrong, no one forgets.”
Vindication came in 1985 as Mr. Davis and co-workers kept a sharp eye on Hurricane Gloria and tried to “answer questions patiently and sensibly while they analyzed the Niagara of technical data from the National Weather Service offices along the East Coast and applied this information to the outlook for the Maryland area,” The Sun reported at the time.
“It’s not an exact science. Weather’s a fascinating business,” he told the Anne Arundel County Sun in 1990. “It’s always surprising. It’s always something changing.”
Mr. Davis retired in 1995.
The Morning Sun
In his retirement, he volunteered with Ceasefire Maryland, formerly known as Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, Bello Machre and Baltimore Catholic Worker, among other groups.
Mr. Davis was named Anne Arundel County Volunteer of the Year in 2013 by the Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County.
He never lost his New England sports loyalties and was a diehard Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots and Bruins fan.
He also liked hiking and biking with his son on the Baltimore and Annapolis Trail and powerboating and sailing on the Magothy River.
Mr. Davis, who lived in the Rose Cove neighborhood of Pasadena, still enjoyed keeping an eye on the weather while maintaining his backyard weather station, consisting of a thermometer, rain and wind gauge.
A celebration-of-life service will be held from noon to 4 p.m. Monday at the Fernwood Pavilion at Downs Park at 8311 Johns Downs Loop in Pasadena.
He is survived by his wife of 59 years, the former Bonnie Lang; a son, Barry Davis of Owings Mills; two daughters, Lynda Davis of Linthicum and Lolly Forsythe-Chisholm of Pasadena; a half brother, Robert Davis of Dennis Port, Massachusetts; and two grandchildren.