October 01, 2022 4 min read 4 Comments
Photo: Bill Briggs gets set to push his stopwatch before his 1500 Power Walk on Thursday. The likable weatherman finished to cheers.
By Ray Glier
WARNER ROBINS, Ga.___You have never, ever, heard such applause for a Weatherman.
He is usually the most vilified man on TV, the wrecker of weekends, the boob of the tube.
Yet, Thursday afternoon, as Bill Briggs, a weatherman, chugged the last 20 meters of his 1,500 race walk, the cheers started from the 40 or so people gathered at the finish line of McConnell-Talbert Stadium. When Briggs reached the finish line the cheers were louder still.
Bill, 92, cheerfully accepted his gold medal in the Georgia Golden Olympics in the M90-94. He was dead last in the race, but first in his cohort because he was the only walker over 90.
Folks, this is why we are here.
Briggs labored around the track. He was lapped in a race that involved runners 60 to 92. It looked tortuous, to everyone but Bill.
“It sounds contradictory, but you have to enjoy the struggle,” Briggs said. “It sounds like you're crazy. How can you enjoy the suffering and pain you go through when you are training?
“You told your muscles you’re going to do this. And, you know what, you end up having fun. It’s a struggle, but you are enjoying the fact that you are alive.”
The “suffering”, Briggs said, is all part of a rich life. The huffing and puffing is not a puzzle where he asks, “Why am I doing this?” He understands why he is doing this. It is the experience of life.
He may seem physically restricted now, but when he was younger, Briggs was a dynamo. He said he has completed 60 marathons and participated in 600 races. Bill figures he has run more than 60,000 miles.
He insists, “God created something good for the little kid who wore thick-rimmed glasses.”
And, now, about the Weatherman named Bill…
He actually started his career as an engineer for Lockheed and then settled into his true calling as a meteorologist, which he did for 26 years. Briggs called the weather for the National Weather Service in Burbank, Calif., Chicago, and Suitland, Md., outside D.C.
Did he ever take a wrong forecast personally? Did he go to bed tormented?
“Oh yeah,” Bill said. “There is nothing worse than predicting no rain and then hearing it hit the roof of your house.”
Briggs was bitten by the weather bug, quite literally, when he was 8 years old. It was 1938 and he was caught in the Great New England Hurricane. It was catastrophic with 564 deaths and 1,700 injured. The fishing industry was devastated with 2,605 vessels destroyed. Almost 9,000 homes were reduced to firewood.
Bill and his brother, who was 10, and his sister, who was 4, were in their home alone in Fairhaven, Mass., when the flooding started. He remembers watching out their second-story window as the rowboats went from house to house to fetch people from their upstairs windows. The Briggs’ kids had to be plucked to safety, too.
Bill’s father was trying to get home to his children when his car flooded and he had to get out and walk in waist-high water. His mother was trying to drive home through the storm from a religious conference, Bill said. Remember, this was 84 years ago and the early warning systems were not what they are today. It wasn't as if the parents were reckless.
“It was pretty scary,” Bill said. “They both could have died.”
Briggs lives in Savannah now and he is coming face-to-face with Hurricane Ian this weekend. He is enthralled by the storm systems and the people that cover them.
“I’m just enjoying watching it,” Briggs said. "And Jim Cantore (of The Weather Channel) is the weatherman’s weatherman. He’s so earnest. He has technical knowledge and they always put him in the middle of the storm.”
The thing about the Weatherman on the nightly news in Bill's day was that he was just the fall guy for the group if they got it wrong. The Weatherman where he worked, Briggs said, was the guy who made public the consensus of a group of meteorologists.
“We'd have a group that would meet once a day and we tried to make a forecast of how many (weather) stations would have rain and our best forecast was the consensus average of the room,” Bill said. “There were very few people who could give a better forecast than the consensus of the room and that stuck in my noodle.”
It was advice for life.
“Don't just go off on your own tangent, talk to several people and find out what the group is thinking,” Briggs said. “Very few of us are wiser than the group.”
The consensus at the finish line of the 1500 power walk on Thursday was that Bill Briggs was a weatherman worth cheering for.
Copyright © 2022 Ray Glier
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