Norman Macdonald, 77, longtime WBZ weatherman
By Tom Long, Globe Staff, 4/26/2002

   Norman J. Macdonald, 77, a WBZ-TV weatherman who spent his retirement years giving expert court testimony on weather conditions, died of cancer Sunday in York Hospital in Maine.

   Mr. Macdonald joined WBZ-TV in 1961 as weatherman on its 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. broadcasts. In July 1974, he became weekend weatherman. He also broadcast the weather on WBZ radio for many years.

   ''He didn't take himself seriously, and he didn't like people who take themselves too seriously,'' said Fred Ward, his friend and competitor, who delivered the forecasts on WNAC-TV.

   ''Tune in later for my latest forecast'' was a line he often used on his two-minute weather spot on WBZ. ''But what exactly does that mean?'' he'd often say to his friends out of range of the TV camera. ''If my forecast was any good, you wouldn't have to tune in later. It's either accurate or it's not.''

   When the camera was rolling, he'd forecast rain and serve up a spiffy reason, such as a low pressure system moving in from the south, or a high moving out to the north. But later, with his friends, he would say, ''We pretend we have a reason for our forecast, but it's really just the accumulated history of weather patterns. If it rained to the south of Boston today, it'll probably rain in Boston tomorrow.''

   Working in the days before computer-generated graphics and computer forecasting models, he delivered his TV forecasts on a yellow board, drawing in the weather patterns and his prognostications with a magic marker.

   ''Back in his day, you had to do some real forecasting,'' Ward said. ''Today, computers are so good, you can't beat them.''

   Both Ward and Macdonald were meteorologists at the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory when they got the call to forecast the weather on TV. Mr. Macdonald quit and joined the staff at WBZ. Ward kept his day job with the Air Force when he joined WNAC. ''He just jumped into it,'' Ward said. ''I told him forecasting the weather on TV isn't a career, it's a job, but he didn't give it a second thought.''

   Yesterday, former WBZ weatherman Don Kent remembered Mr. Macdonald as ''a great guy who was in weather all his life.'' Kent recalled the time Mr. Macdonald was delivering his forecast using a new series of sliding weather maps when he got caught between the New England and national maps. ''It was a bad relay or something,'' Kent said. ''He was caught out of view of the camera and was unable to continue the forecast. It's something we always laughed about.''

   Mr. Macdonald was born in Boston. He earned a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in meteorology at CalTech. He served in the Navy and the Naval Reserve from 1942 to 1963. He also did research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for about 10 years.

   After retiring from WBZ in 1977, he was affiliated with Weather Services Inc. and AccuWeather. He also did research on global warming and published scientific papers on the subject. 

   In his retirement, he was a forensic meteorologist, which his Web site describes as the ''reconstruction of weather conditions surrounding specific events.''

   ''Lawyers and insurance companies use forensic meteorologists to determine if, for example, fog was thick enough to severely limit visibility at the time of an accident, if a sidewalk was icy, or if glare could have blinded a driver, causing an accident,'' according to the Web site.

   Ward, who is also a forensic meteorologist, described the specialty as mainly court testimony in ''slip-and-fall cases.'' ''In Massachusetts,'' he said, ''you can only sue if you slip on a sidewalk if there is an unnatural accumulation of ice or snow, so they need a meteorologist to testify as an expert witness at court proceedings.''

   Mr. Macdonald's friends and relatives all recalled his sense of humor. ''He always had a joke to tell,'' said Ward. He was a ''very funny man,'' said Kent.

   ''He may not have been the life of the party,'' said his wife, Carol, ''but he wanted to be.''
''He was a fellow who did a million things and did them well, but never stuck with any one thing,'' Ward said.

   Besides his wife, he leaves two sons, Collin of Hawaii and Brian of Dracut; two daughters, Christina of Clifton, Va., and Lauren Piechowicz of Granville, Ohio; three stepchildren, Joel Gurner of Fort Myers, Fla., Hilary Steinberg of Pennsylvania and Sarah Gurner of South Berwick, Maine; and nine grandchildren.

   A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday in First Parish Church in York, Maine.

   This story ran on page E13 of the Boston Globe on 4/26/2002.

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