The total number of IBM jobs cut worldwide, linked to the economic downturn tied to the covid-19 pandemic, has not been disclosed but is likely in the thousands, according to Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal.
For weather enthusiasts, one of the most recognizable casualties of the cuts is the shuttering of Weather Underground’s Category 6 blog, started by Weather Underground co-founder Jeff Masters in 2005.
The blog has been a centerpiece of the Weather Underground website, which is a hub of weather forecasts, data and maps. Masters, who holds a doctorate in meteorology and served for four years as a flight meteorologist for NOAA’s Hurricane Hunters, co-founded the company in 1995 and sold it to the Weather Company in 2012.
Most recently, the Category 6 blog has been run by meteorologist and weather journalist Bob Henson, who is among those laid off. Henson confirmed that updates to the blog will cease after June 22, when he departs.
The Category 6 legacy
The blog, which launched in 2005, became a destination for in-depth commentary on extreme weather events. Best known for its hurricane updates, which expertly dissected computer model forecasts, it covered the most significant weather stories all over the world, offering fresh analysis and details often not available elsewhere.
“The demise of the Weather Underground blogs marks the end of an incredibly unique and wonderful place to learn about weather and share weather knowledge and experiences with others passionate about the weather,” Masters said via email.
The blog also offered deep dives on cutting-edge weather research and the connections between extreme weather and climate change.
“I’m proud that we have been a site for climate change coverage that took the science and the threat seriously and tried to make some of the deep research more accessible,” Henson wrote in an email.
Originally known as “Jeff Masters’ Wunderblog,” it became the “Category 6″ blog in 2016 after a reader contest to “name the blog.”
Launching before one of the most active Atlantic hurricane seasons on record in 2005, its audience swelled as storms such as Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma tormented coastal communities.
“[T]he blog quickly became the most widely-read and quoted weather blog on the internet,” Masters wrote.
Masters recalls warning readers about Katrina in 2005 and advising New Orleans residents to “evacuate now” before the storm’s traumatic assault.
“I heard from a number of New Orleans residents afterwards who thanked me for my posts on that nightmare storm, and some of them credited my blog with saving their lives,” he wrote. “After that feedback, I became a true convert on the value of the blog.”
In its 15 years of existence, the blog cultivated an enormous following of engaged readers who posted scores of comments on almost every entry. Commenters were kept in line by a set of four volunteer moderators. One disaster relief organization, Portlight Strategies, was formed by blog commenters, Masters said.
“The intelligence and value of the discussions there were incredible,” Masters wrote.
“It’s meant more than I can express to be part of this unique forum, where weather and climate are front and center in all their geeky glory,” Henson added.
The enriching discussions within the community “were instrumental” in inspiring “at least ten people” to become meteorologists, Masters noted.
One of these meteorologists, Levi Cowan, is a postdoctoral researcher in NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division while operating the popular Tropical Tidbits website, which provides forecasting models, weather imagery and video updates on threatening tropical storms.
The blog “allowed me to learn and grow as a young scientist,” Cowan said in an email. “I consider the interactions, debates and discussions with the blog’s community to be an irreplaceable part of my development as a meteorologist.”
Masters and Henson said the sun setting on Category 6 is not the end of the road for their writing efforts. They will take their talents to the Yale Climate Connections website, at least part time.
“My ‘Eye on the Storm’ blog begins there Wednesday, and I plan to perform my usual daily updates on Atlantic disturbances and named storms during the heat of the hurricane season,” Masters wrote. “ ’Eye on the Storm’ does not yet have a comment section, but that will get added in a few weeks.”
Both Henson and Masters will continue book writing efforts as well.
Other repercussions of layoffs within the Weather Company
The end of the Category 6 blog is just one of several consequences of the cuts at the Weather Company.
Beyond the blog, Masters fears the Weather Underground site he co-founded will fall into disrepair. He said just one of 50 Weather Underground employees on staff in 2016 will remain after the layoffs.
“The glory days of Weather Underground are in the past, and I don’t see the organization breaking any new ground in the future,” he wrote. “I was reluctant to agree to selling the company back in 2012, because I knew that absorption of Weather Underground by a large corporation would likely squash its creativity and uniqueness.”
Melissa Medori, a Weather Company spokeswoman, wrote in an email that Weather Underground’s website and app “aren’t going anywhere.”
The Weather Company has also cut staff in its other divisions, including writers, editors and video journalists for weather.com, the website for the Weather Channel, and meteorologists and support staff for the group that supports private-sector clients with forecast information and graphics, formerly known as Weather Services International. The Weather Channel television network is not under IBM ownership.
“The Weather Company team will continue its long-term work to provide industry-leading weather news and information, covering the science behind weather and climate,” Medori wrote. “IBM remains committed to advancing weather science and forecast dissemination.”
The company has made forecasting investments in the past year, unveiling a new, high-resolution global forecast model that it claims will improve the accuracy of forecasts across the industrialized and developing worlds.
In an official statement, IBM wrote: “IBM’s work in a highly competitive marketplace requires flexibility to constantly remix to high-value skills, and our workforce decisions are made in the long-term interests of our business.”