Ten years of weather blogging: a history of the Capital Weather Gang

Have you ever wondered about the origins of the Capital Weather Gang? About how this crazy destination for the weather-obsessed came into existence? Here’s the story…

The madness started 10 years ago, this week. With a supporting cast, I publicly launched CapitalWeather.com, the first professionally-run local weather blog on the internet. At the time, it was a completely independent Web site. CapitalWeather.com then evolved into the Capital Weather Gang (CWG) blog at washingtonpost.com when it was absorbed by the Post in January, 2008.

The revelation that this concept could work came late one sleepless night late in 2002, during an impromptu brain-storming session.  As a trained meteorologist working as a climate change analyst for the Federal government, I had an itch to get back into the weather forecasting game.  I wanted to create an online destination for compelling Washington, D.C. weather information.  The brand “Capital Weather” popped into my head and I registered the domain CapitalWeather.com.

In 2003, CapitalWeather.com was simply a portal to useful Washington, D.C. weather Web resources – mostly from TV stations and the National Weather Service.  Occasionally, I’d post discussions when major weather were coming (like the Blizzard of 2003 and Hurricane Isabel) in our “Storm Center.”  Mostly, just friends and family viewed the site.

Screenshot of CapitalWeather.com from December 2003.

Screenshot of CapitalWeather.com from December 2003.

That year (2003), however, blogs were proliferating in popularity –  as they facilitated easy two-way conversations between writers and readers.

I remember searching for weather blogs and frankly being surprised not to find any.  After all, weather is  among the most ubiquitous subjects of conversation.  What a great place a blog could be for readers to ask for and receive information from forecasters and share observations.  Furthermore, blogs are dynamic and flowing – an information medium custom-fit for weather’s ever-changing nature.  A weather blog would mean those seeking information about weather would no longer be beholden to the schedule of TV news and once-a-day newspapers.

When I was pondering the potential of a weather blog, Jamie Jones, CWG’s technology lead, contacted me to inquire if I wanted help on the programming side of CapitalWeather.com.  I said: ‘Absolutely – I want to build a blog: will you help me?’  Jamie graciously and generously agreed.

CapitalWeather.com, the blog, went online February 3, 2004.  I still had another day job and understood the need for a weather blog to function 365 days a year.  So I twisted the arms of a supporting cast to join me in a group blog effort.  We didn’t have a lot of connections, but when we launched we promoted the blog within our network of contacts and issued a press release. Reads our inaugural blog entry:

Welcome to the new CapitalWeather.com! Our mission is simple: to provide the most useful and entertaining weather information for the DC area available ANYWHERE.

We give you weather in a format you will not find anywhere else. Using this blog, our team of meteorologists, writers and weather hobbyists now begin offering timely perspectives on what is going on outside and allow you to join the conversation.

Screenshot of CapitalWeather.com from 2004 (WayBackMachine)

Screenshot of CapitalWeather.com from 2004 (WayBackMachine)

Link: Archive of the original CapitalWeather.com

For about the next four years, the blog operated independently.  We grew the Web site’s traffic through word of mouth and grassroots promotion.  For example, I’d send emails to other local blogs to initiate reciprocal link relationships.

Names you know well joined the effort in those early years including Dan Stillman (lead meteorologist), Kevin Ambrose, Camden Walker, Matt Ross, and Ian Livingston (information lead).

Some pivotal moments in our growth included coverage of the busy 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons (including Katrina), and a few significant snow and ice storms in D.C., especially in 2006 and 2007. We were recognized as one of D.C.’s top blogs by Washingtonian magazine and earned some positive coverage in the Washington Post – including a front page Style piece in 2004.

In 2007, seeking to expand its local weather presence, the Post contacted us about the blog moving to WashingtonPost.com.  Seeking a greater reach as well as some compensation for our efforts, we struck a deal.  In January 2008, our blog URL, CapitalWeather.com was re-directed to washingtonpost.com as we became the Capital Weather Gang blog.

“The move to washingtonpost.com will give our content greater reach and align us with one of the Internet’s top destinations for news and information,” our final CapitalWeather.com blog post read. “In time, our access to washingtonpost.com’s information technology resources will enable the roll-out of new innovative tools and multimedia.”

Since joining the Post, our operation has continued to grow. After running the Capital Weather Gang on the side while continuing to maintain a day job through the Snowmageddon winter of 2010, the Post hired me as its full-time weather editor in the fall of 2010. Our team of contributors has ballooned from several to nearly 20. (For those curious, aside from myself, all current CWG contributors either have outside full-time day jobs or are retired).

CWG today

CWG today

For several CapitalWeather.com and CWG contributors, their experience here served as a springboard for future endeavors and opportunities:

* Steve Scolnik, the originator of our PM Update, now runs the blog CapitalClimate
* Josh Larson, part of the original CapitalWeather.com team, is part of Weather5280.com – a cutting-edge Denver weather Web site.
* Andrew Freedman, who wrote weekly climate change pieces for CapitalWeather.com and CWG, was just hired by Mashable as its first climate reporter after a successful run at Climate Central.
* Greg Postel, our tropical weather expert in 2010 and 2011, is now an on-camera weather expert for The Weather Channel

All these years, our mission hasn’t changed: to provide useful, entertaining local weather information. But in recent years, our coverage has expanded to including significant national and international weather as well as related topics ranging from astronomy to government weather policy to space weather and climate change. We’ve also dived head first into social media, with a vibrant, growing presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr (photo sharing). You’ll hear us on the radio (frequently on WMAL) and sometimes see us on TV.

Of course, the popularity of weather blogs has exploded since CapitalWeather.com’s early days…no doubt numbering in the thousands today. Just this week, BuzzFeed ran a feature on The Search For The Internet’s Next Top Weather Nerd. In addition to the hiring of Andrew Freedman at Mashable, Eric Holthaus – another digital meteorologist – has started a new full-time weather writing gig at Slate. Gawker is also looking for a full-time weather writer.

“The rise of the internet weatherperson has been long in the making,” notes the BuzzFeed piece. “As a platform, the internet is a perfect home for something as universal, media-rich, and consequential as weather. And the traffic metrics appear to agree.”

It adds: “While traditional meteorologists brace for change, those who’ve made the jump to the internet talk as though we’re on the cusp of a “golden age” of weather reporting.”

I think the thrust of the BuzzFeed piece that the best days are still ahead for online weather is right-on. I see great potential for us to continue growing and improving our weather offerings at CWG. But in order for us to reach our potential, we have to best serve you – the reader. It all comes back to my initial motivation for pioneering this – making weather a two-way conversation.

So I’ll conclude this piece by asking, what can we do for you? How can CWG improve? What should we do more of, less of? Would you like more weather videos? A CWG app?

Thank you for your recommendations, and for following the Capital Weather Gang in the past, present, and future….

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