Harlan K. Saylor, 71, a retired federal meteorologist who was one of the nation's premier weather forecasters, died of cancer Feb. 16 at Southern Maryland Hospital Center. He lived in Camp Springs.

Mr. Saylor retired in 1988 after 45 years as a government meteorologist, the last 20 as deputy director of the National Meteorological Center, the nerve center here for weather forecasting throughout the country.

George Cressman, retired director of the center, said Mr. Saylor helped usher in an era of computers and satellite feeds at the agency, in a span of time in which the "scientific content of forecasting has gone up a hundredfold."

But Mr. Saylor also had an eagle eye for detail and a sense for the behavior of weather that "went beyond science," Cressman said. He was the agency's institutional memory for the way snowstorms, hurricanes and other major weather conditions had developed in the past and how they turned out, the former director said.

"He would sense an impending weather development very early on, and be right on top of it all the way. Other people would be surprised by it in later stages," Cressman said.

Mr. Saylor was born in Pottstown, Pa., and grew up in West Chester, Pa., where, during high school, he was the official town climate observer for what was then the U.S. Weather Bureau.

He attended Pennsylvania State University and then joined the Army Air Corps and was sent to study meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was assigned by the Army to weather forecasting duties for the North Atlantic, serving in Newfoundland, Greenland and Iceland during World War II. By the end of the war, he was a lieutenant colonel.

He worked for the Weather Bureau as a transatlantic weather forecaster at New York's La Guardia airport for a decade before being assigned to Washington.

Mr. Saylor was awarded the Silver and Gold medals of the Commerce Department and had a certificate for outstanding service from the American Meteorological Society, to which he belonged. He was a member of Bells United Methodist Church in Suitland.

Survivors include his wife, Bernice Saylor of Camp Springs; two sons, Tom Saylor of Eugene, Ore., and Fred Saylor of Waldorf; a daughter, Susan Hebert of Salisbury, Md.; three sisters, Ruth Turkington and Betty McMullen, both of Stone Harbor, N.J., and Margery Greenplate of Wilmington, Del.; a brother, William Saylor of Cedar Grove, N.J.; and six grandchildren.