The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Remembering Mark Richards, the dean of D.C. weather observers

Richards, who supervised weather observations at National Airport from 1979 to 2022, died on July 26 while on the job

Reagan National Airport on May 18, left. Mark Richards, right. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post, left; courtesy Keith Richards, right)
Comment

From Jason Samenow, weather editor: I was deeply saddened to learn Mark Richards — who was the supervisor of weather observations at Reagan National Airport — died last week while at his job. Richards always made himself available to the Capital Weather Gang for interviews about D.C. weather observations and even controversies about the airport’s snow measurements. Richards was also profiled by The Post’s John Kelly in 2003: Snow measuring crew won’t give an inch.

I always enjoyed talking to Richards, and he could not have been kinder.

As his loss has shaken the local weather community, I reached out to Keith Allen, one of Richards’s close friends and colleagues, to write this remembrance.

Mark Richards was an icon in the Washington, D.C., weather community for 43 years as an observer at Ronald Reagan National Airport. A Vietnam War veteran and a larger-than-life figure, he came out of the Air Force to work at National Airport on Sept. 1, 1979. He never missed a day of work until he had a heart attack on the job in March 2014. That sidelined him for a while, but he came back to work in August 2014 and resumed his steadfast reliability, never late or absent.

He was at work on July 26 when he had another heart attack and died on his 73rd birthday.

Richards made history when he arrived at the airport in 1979. For the first time since the opening of National Airport in 1941, the weather reports were recorded and transmitted by observers who were not employees of the U.S. government. The National Weather Service had decided to turn these duties over to civilians in an effort to save money.

Richards’s work included taking weather observations to support aviation and forecasting. In addition, his job entailed maintaining daily and monthly climate records, including snowfall measurements, and providing the C & P Telephone Co. operators with hourly weather data. This data was brought into the phone company’s weather announcement system, which handled approximately 150,000 calls per day.

The revival of telephone weather forecasts in Washington, D.C.

As the on-site supervisor, Richards employed diligent quality control at the airport that resulted in a top ranking and the lowest error rate nationwide frequently during his long tenure. That ranking included not only civilian weather observing stations but also those maintained by the Weather Service.

Richards was a skilled forecaster. He worked with D.C. Weather Services to provide the weather messages for the phone company for over 20 years (at 202.936.1212) and for the vendor that now provides that service (at 202.589.1212).

Richards was a talented musician, singer, entertainer and emcee. He also coached and refereed high school basketball and baseball. Most important, he was a man of outstanding integrity and sincerity, and an old-school good soul who was respected and loved by many.

You can read more about Richards and funeral arrangements at this link: Obituary — Mark Joseph Richards

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