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Remembering Mark Richards, DC’s Dean of Weather Observations

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From Jason Samenow, Weather Editor: I was deeply saddened to learn that Mark Richards – who was the weather observation supervisor at Reagan National Airport – passed away last week while on the job. Richards has always made himself available to the Capital Weather Gang for interviews on DC Weather Observations and even controversies over the airport’s snow measures. Richards was also featured by John Kelly of the Post in 2003: The snow measurement team won’t give an inch.

I’ve always enjoyed talking to Richards and he couldn’t have been nicer.

As his loss shook the local weather community, I contacted Keith Allen, one of Richards’ close friends and colleagues, to write this memory.

Mark Richards was an icon in the Washington, DC weather community for 43 years as a spotter at Ronald Reagan National Airport. A Vietnam veteran and larger-than-life figure, he walked out of the Air Force to work at National Airport on September 1, 1979. He never missed a day of work until he had a heart attack at work in March 2014. This sidelined him for a time but he returned to work in August 2014 and regained his unwavering reliability, never late or absent.

He was at work on July 26 when he had another heart attack and died on his 72nd birthday.

Richards made history when he arrived at the airport in 1979. For the first time since the national airport opened in 1941, weather reports were recorded and transmitted by observers who were not not US government employees. The National Weather Service had decided to outsource these tasks to civilians in an effort to save money.

Richards’ work included taking weather observations to support aviation and forecasting. In addition, his job was to keep daily and monthly weather records, including snowfall measurements, and to provide C&P Telephone Company operators with hourly weather data. This data was fed into the telephone company’s weather announcement system, which handled approximately 150,000 calls per day.

The Revival of Telephone Weather Forecasting in Washington, DC

As an on-site supervisor, Richards’ diligent quality control at the airport earned him top rankings and the lowest error rate nationally frequently during his long tenure. This classification included not only civilian weather observing stations, but also those operated by the Weather Service.

Richards was a skilled forecaster. He worked with DC Weather Services providing weather messages for the telephone company for over 20 years (at 202.936.1212) and for the provider that now provides this service (at 202.589.1212).

Richards was a talented musician, singer, entertainer and emcee. He also coached and umpired high school basketball and baseball. More importantly, he was a man of exceptional integrity and sincerity, and a good old-school soul who was respected and loved by many.

You can find out more about Richards and the funeral arrangements at this link: Obituary — Mark Joseph Richards

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