Verizon’s weather line is on hold, but callers have options

John Kelly
Columnist October 4, 2011

If someone had come up to me in March and told me that I’d still be writing about the fate of Verizon’s telephone weather forecasts in October, I’d have said, “What a preposterous notion. Now will you please go away and allow me to finish my exfoliation in peace?”

And yet here I am doing just as that imaginary person predicted.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

The background: For 70 years, Washingtonians have been able to dial 936-1212 and hear the day’s weather forecast. But in March, Verizon announced that on June 1 it was pulling the plug on that, as well as on the recorded time line. According to the phone company, new technologies made the services obsolete.

But hundreds of readers felt otherwise. They called and e-mailed me. Keith Allen, the contractor who oversees the team of meteorologists that provides the forecasts, received thousands of e-mails. Verizon listened, and although it discontinued the 301- and 703-936-1212 numbers, you can still hear the forecast if you call 202-936-1212. (Oddly, however, the forecast is preceded by a message saying the service will end June 1.)

Telecompute, a local company that provides recorded telephone information in markets around the country, said it’s interested in taking over the service. It has lined up sponsorship from two local entities. Telecompute would like to have the magic number — 936-1212 — since it’s ingrained in so many heads.

But, said Telecompute’s Warren Miller, Verizon keeps stringing him along, asking whether he really has the capacity to handle the calls.

To summarize: Verizon decided to kill the weather line because it thought that not enough people called it anymore. But Verizon won’t hand over 936-1212 because it worries too many people will call it.

I asked Verizon what was up. A Verizon spokesperson e-mailed: “Negotiations continue with a party that expressed interest in Verizon’s weather line. And, the service has remained operational during these discussions.”

Six months to decide what to do? One could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps Verizon is just sort of hoping this thing will die on the vine.

Hanging on the telephone

Telecompute offers its own recorded weather line for the D.C. area: 202-589-1212. It features a computerized voice — not the dulcet tones of a Neal Pizzano or a Howard Phoebus — but Warren said he’s open to using Keith Allen’s crew if he can get some clarification from Verizon.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service announced that its NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts are available via the telephone. It uses one of the better computerized voices. It’s a free service. Here are the local numbers: Washington area: 202-349-0185. Manassas: 703-652-1210. Baltimore: 410-500-4450. Fredericksburg: 540-322-4035.

History lesson

Some more unfinished business: The Historical Society of Washington still has not reopened. You will recall that the society was drowning in the upkeep costs of its handsome Mount Vernon Square building, the former Carnegie Library.

Hours at its Kiplinger Library were gradually cut back before the place was closed completely. It was hoped that turning over most of the building to the Washington convention and visitors bureau would allow the library to reopen by Labor Day.

Details are still being ironed out, said Julie Koczela, the society’s treasurer. Meanwhile, librarian Yvonne Carignan took a job heading the special collections department at George Mason.

“We’re very close to signing with the convention center,” Julie told me. The society is also working with consultants on a strategic plan. “We want to be responsible and be sustainable so when we’re open, we can stay open.”

The mighty, fallen

Perhaps you’ve seen those ads announcing estate sales featuring items from a “Divorced Plastic Surgeon” or an “Indicted Financier.” The provenance suggests a wealthy person laid low by greed or circumstance.

I went to one on Sunday, at Collingwood, a museum in Alexandria. The unlucky schmo was Timothy Durham, a GOP donor and former chief executive of National Lampoon who was indicted in March on suspicion of operating a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of $200 million.

I don’t know how much of the stuff on display was Durham’s — these auctions tend to commingle collectibles — but I know at least one thing was: a portrait of Durham by Peter Max. Durham must have commissioned it. It was the financier’s rather Rod Blagojevichish head in a swirl of color.

I would have bid on the kitschy painting, but the auctioneer, upon discovering that I was a journalist, insisted that I leave the premises.

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