Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Goodbye, Dr. George!

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I was saddened to hear that another great intellect – and friend – has left the planet.

I am sure many millions of viewers enjoyed this bow-tied meteorologist’s reporting of the weather in his “old school” style. Today, there’s hardly anyone like him, and all the television stations prefer that short skirts report on the weather to help boost ratings.

As a writer and columnist for the Pasadena Star News in the 1980s, I used to call Dr. Fischbeck and get his opinion about some weather-related issue. He always managed to get to the phone, and was always eager to chat.  For example, he told me that there is no such thing as reliable long-term weather, that weather can only be “predicted” accurately up to 48 hours.

Back in 1984 when I conducted a “rain dance”  with the children at the City of Pasadena’s Victory Park day camp, and it rained that August night, I chatted with Dr. George about it.

Apparently, someone had already called him and told him about the rain dance, so he  knew about it when I brought it up.  Fischbeck told me that he recognized and respected the sacred nature of the Southwestern Indians’ rain dances and ceremonies, having lived among the New Mexico Indians for two years as an anthropologist. Still, he believed that there was no connection between our rain dance and the rain, discounting the ability of what he called “prayer” to affect the weather.

He explained that he noted a storm off California’s coast at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, the day we did the rain dance.  By 11 p.m. that evening,  Dr. Fischbeck said that he knew rain would fall, but not where. He was calling it a “freak storm” since this was August with an average precipitation of zero. Due to the winds that arose, the rain moved further west and north than he expected, he told me.

I met him for the first time in the late 1980s when I was the editor of Mensa’s local “Lament” magazine. I wanted him to write an editorial about the then-drought that California was experiencing. He agreed, and I visited him at the Channel 7 studios.  He greeted me like an old friend, and we discussed his column.  When  published, it was a well-received editorial, still very relevant today.

In honor of Dr. George, here is a shortened version of what he had to say:


Folks, do you know that this densely populated Southern California urban sprawl is located on what geologists call a “coastal desert plain”?  That’s right – we live here in a desert.  And yet we use and waste water as if there is no tomorrow.  If we don’t start realizing where we live, we’re bound to have some severe problems in the near future.  Why?  Because everyone wants to live in Southern California.  And where does the water come from?  From Northern California and from the Colorado River.  Water experts tell us that we might have a real crisis on our hands real soon if we don’t learn to live with less water.

Let’s explore some of the ways in which everyone can pitch in and help.

Did you know that nearly 50 percent of our residential water use is literally flushed down the toilet?  Today there are toilet tanks that can flush with less water, and some areas are now requiring these in new construction. 

An innovative group in Highland Park named WTI Inc. has been practicing a unique form of water conservation for nearly 17 years.  The household members save their bath and shower water in one-gallon containers, which they neatly store in the bathroom.  Then, using specially-cut plastic pour containers, they use their bath and shower water to flush the toilet.  This is a simple method of water conservation that even apartment dwellers can practice.

Did you know that some plants in your yard require much more water than others?  Talk to the people at your local nursery, and find out which plants are drought tolerant. 

If you have a yard, you should seriously consider grey-water recycling.  Grey-water refers to the water that goes down our kitchen and bathroom sinks, and down the tub.  With some simple drain-line alterations, and with the possible change of detergent, you can direct this once-used water into your yard to water your trees, bushes, and even garden. 

And did you know that the original navel orange tree in Southern California was planted outside a home and watered with dishwater?  You can still see that tree today in Riverside!

The number of ways in which we can save and conserve water are endless.  Some ways that most of us don’t usually think of are, for example, collecting rainwater from your roofs in plastic trash buckets – just like “grandma back on the farm” used to do, right?  Your editor told me that he has collected up to 400 gallons of rainwater in a single storm, although usually he collects about 40 gallons of rain a storm.  That’s free water that doesn’t have to be imported to us. 
Folks, remember that we can always lick a problem if we stick together and work together.  Don’t wait for “the government,” since the solution is really within our own grasp.   I am hopeful for our future.  And thank you for letting me share my ideas with you!
Dr. George Fischbeck
Meteorologist, KABC TV

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