The Washington Post

Weather watch: Verizon’s forecast phone line, reincarnated

Columnist

It wasn’t easy to kill Rasputin, but in the end — after being stabbed, poisoned, shot and drowned — he died.

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 mythical phoenix, on the other hand, never dies. Or rather, it dies but rises from the ashes to live again.

So, which will the Verizon weather line most resemble? The mad Russian monk or the flammable bird? Your guess is as good as mine.

I’ve written several times about the line, which has been providing free weather forecasts since the 1930s. Simply dial 202-936-1212, and you can hear what the heavens have in store for you: wind or rain or shine. In March, Verizon announced that weather (and another service, time) no longer fit the company’s mission. In the land of smartphones and cable TV, phone weather is a “remnant of another era,” a Verizon spokeswoman told me.

But a backlash started, and the hangman slacked his rope. On June 1 — the day the plug was scheduled to be pulled — I wrote that there would be a reprieve.

Last week, Verizon contacted Keith Allen of D.C. Weather Services, whose half-dozen part-time meteorologists record the forecasts, and told him the service would be shut down in a week or two. “That was the news I did not want to hear,” Keith told me.

But this week, I learned that at least two entities are interested in taking over the line. The Washington Post passed, but the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has been in discussions with Verizon. COG already has an air-quality phone line (202-962-3299). “This could be a really neat tie-in, ” said COG’s Jennifer Desimone. “We want to make sure the citizens of our region are informed of anything that could affect their health.”

The question is whether COG can afford it. Keith might have charged Verizon only $800 a month to provide four to five forecasts a day, but there is the additional cost of the infrastructure.

Another possible white knight: the Washington-based Telecompute Corp., which already provides a multitude of phone services, including weather. Telecompute’s Warren Miller said he would sell local advertising on the line to augment the costs. “My mission would be to keep the number exactly like it is,” Warren said.

Keith said he’s confident someone will step forward. “There may be an interruption for a while, but it’s going to fly again,” he said. “I guarantee you that.”

Fly again? That sounds like the phoenix. But that’s probably what Rasputin said, too, just before they threw him in the Neva River.

Stormy weather

Verizon has already shut down the 703- and 301- numbers, keeping only the 202-936-1212 exchange. The company kept the message that says the service will be discontinued June 1, even though the system is still perking along. It’s almost as if Verizon wants to starve it.

Of course, Verizon is entirely within its rights to shut down the phone line. “It is a deregulated service,” said Betty Ann Kane of the District’s Public Service Commission. “We understand it’s going to cause a difficulty for some people. The bottom line is, legally we have no authority to do anything about it, under federal or D.C. law.”

Send a Kid to Camp

When I drove to Camp Moss Hollow in Virginia the other day, I noticed the temperature dropped 10 degrees, from 86 to 76. That’s how much cooler it is there. It’s the perfect place for at-risk kids to get away from the city’s heat.

Your donation can help keep them cool. To donate, go to www.washingtonpost.com/camp. Click where it says “Give Now,” and designate “Send a Kid to Camp” in the gift information. Or mail a check payable to “Send a Kid to Camp” to Send a Kid to Camp, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237.

Sleeper

Someone on my neighborhood message group placed a “for sale” ad for a king-size memory foam mattress. Wait a minute. Since it’ s made of memory foam, wouldn’t the mattress “remember” the people who had slept on it previously? Oh, the stories it could tell. . . .

And why is it that mattress commercials always show someone jumping up and down on one side of the bed while a glass of red wine rests placidly on the other side? Is this a feature consumers are looking for? Do that many people drink wine in bed?

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