Probable nor'-east to sou'-west winds, varying to the southard and westard and eastard and points between; high and low barometer, sweeping round from place to place; probable areas of rain, snow, hail, and drought, succeeded or preceded by earthquakes with thunder and lightning. -- Mark Twain, from an 1976 speech on New England weatherSkip to next paragraph
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AROUND our house, Don Kent did not predict the weather - he made it. If Mom heard Don Kent say plan for rain, she stuck us kids in galoshes, sou'westers, and all but gave us canoes to ride out the deluge.
This prince of prognostication has ruled New England's meteorological airwaves for more than 37 years. No other weather broadcaster in the country has spent more time telling folks what to expect overhead.
His longevity in this business is a feat in itself. In New England, billowing northeasters have been known to rip a forecaster's reputation to shreds at breakfast and leave him baking in full sun by lunchtime.
''This is known in the weather business as the place to come for the most challenging weather in the nation,'' says Don Kent during an interview from the comfort of his Cape Cod colonial here.
New England sits in an alley where ''Montreal express'' cold waves collide with muggy air masses from the tropics. Put these antagonistic forces over the Atlantic Ocean and nearby White and Berkshire Mountains, and the result is ''every kind of weather imaginable,'' says the salt-and-pepper haired dean of forecasters with obvious delight.
In meteorological circles, Mr. Kent is known affectionately as a ''weather nut.'' Even a year after retirement from WBZ-TV, his Bostonian inflection can still be heard daily on eight radio stations and weekly on a Concord, N.H., television station. And if that's not enough, he travels regularly to his solar-energy store in Weymouth, Mass., and makes appearances for Bird Inc., a Walpole shingle manufacturer.
From an early age, Kent has had an eye on the barometer and his head in the clouds. In the '30s, when he neared graduation from Quincy High School, he went to see boyhood idol E. B. Rideout. Mr. Rideout began in the 1920s on WEEI radio as the first weather broadcaster in the country. Kent asked Rideout if he could be his assistant. ''He told me there was only room for one weatherman in town and he was it,'' Kent recalls. ''Five years later I was competing with him.''
Don Kent never earned a college degree in meteorology - ''there wasn't one to get at the time.'' He got his advanced education in the United States Coast Guard during World War II.
Since 1947, he has never been off the air. He first appeared on television in 1955 for WBZ, and for the next 10 years he was the only full-time weatherman on the tube. Now, Boston has nine: three on each of the three major stations.
But even when the media discovered weather as a topic of public interest, Kent remained unique. Instead of experienced weathermen, many stations had musicians, clowns, or women hired perhaps more for their looks than their outlook.
''I remember one Boston station had a Miss Monday, a Miss Tuesday, and so on. But they still couldn't compete with Don Kent,'' says one official at the Boston-based American Meteorological Society.
''His secret for success,'' says this official, ''was that he explained how he arrived at his forecast. In doing so, he took the public into his confidence. And if he got it wrong, they understood why. He was very good at educating the public.''
''Don broke the ice for the whole field,'' says Bob Copeland, a meteorologist with WCVB-TV, Channel 5. ''He had the audacity to stand up and tell management that fluff is not what the people wanted. 'Do it straight. It's the only way to do it.' He laid the groundwork for every meteorologist on televison today,'' says Mr. Copeland, who credits Kent with getting him his first broadcast job in 1957.