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Drought Boosts Business For Private Weathermen

July 31, 1988

Undated (AP) _ When Harvey Freese talks about the weather, his clients hang on every word as if their livelihoods depended on his opinions. Sometimes they do.

Freese is private weather forecaster, one of a relatively small group of professional meteorologists whose opinions are eagerly sought by commodities traders, farmers, film producers, Las Vegas oddsmakers and others who need to know more about tomorrow’s weather than the National Weather Service can tell them.

The drought that has dried up Midwestern crop fields and driven up prices for grains and soybeans also has boosted the demand for detailed weather information, especially among people in the agriculture business.

Freese, a partner with his longtime friend and fellow meterologist Charles Notis in Freese-Notis Weather Inc. of Des Moines, Iowa, said his company’s client list is growing at the rate of one new customer per week.

″We were getting two or three customers a day for a while there in June and early July,″ he said in a telephone interview. ″We had more than 300 farming clients in the spring and because of the hot, dry situation, that mushroomed to over 2,000 at the end of June.

″It’s just been an incredible time,″ Freese said. ″Time went by so fast because we were so busy, it seems like it was just Easter.″

The American Meteorological Society says about a third of the approximately 100 meteorological companies in the United States offer the sort of individual consulting service that Freese-Notis provides.

For prices ranging from $400 to more than $250,000 a year, clients receive daily forecasts and updates - usually via their computer terminals - and can call up their meteorologist to ask questions.

″The single most important thing we do is to provide direct individual consultations,″ said Peter R. Leavitt, executive vice president of Weather Services Corp., a Bedford, Mass., firm with 2,000 clients and 60 meteorologists among its 100 employees.

Leavitt said commodity brokerages and traders make up about 20 percent of his company’s customers, and they are among the most persistent in seeking detailed forecasts.

″If anybody is going to take some action based on a weather forecast, there’s nothing we can say in two or three lines or even a paragraph that’s going to contain all the information they’re going to need to make a decision,″ Leavitt said.

Commodity trading firms usually subscribe to only one private forecasting service, but crop futures prices rarely rise or fall on a single meteorologist’s prediction. New information spreads rapidly on the trading floors and traders frequently compare forecasts.

″If three say it’s going to rain and two don’t, they’ll probably end up going with the consensus,″ said Jerry Gidel, a grain market analyst with G.H. Miller & Co. in Chicago.

But the private forecasts combined often swing more clout in the market than the more vague, generalized predictions of the National Weather Service.

″The National Weather Service is not catering to individual calls and needs,″ said Earl Finckle, president of 30-year-old Central Weather Service in the Chicago suburb of Wheeling, Ill.

″When you’re dealing with the same person for 20 or 30 years, you develop a close relationship ... so you’re not afraid to give the client your absolute best opinion,″ Finckle said.

But even the best opinions are sometimes wrong and the meteorologists interviewed for this story acknowledged they did not accurately predict the rains that drenched most of the Farm Belt two weeks ago and cooled down the drought pattern.

″We were only going for scattered showers and we were going for hot weather,″ Leavitt said.

For the coming week, the three private weathermen generally agreed with the National Weather Service’s forecast for above-normal temperatures with normal rainfall in the Midwest.

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