So back in the day I was a big fan of The Weather Channel. When I say back in the day, I mean during the middle part of the 1990s, way back before the internet was a source for all the weather information a person could ever want and before The Weather Channel itself started going downhill, in my opinion, by dropping intellectual documentaries in favor of sensationalistic "weathertainment" prime-time shows and featuring home & garden segments that have little, if anything, to do with weather. Though the changes the channel has made in the recent years may have brought in more advertising revenue and broadened the base of viewers, it’s led a lot of people who used to like the channel about a decade ago to tune out.
One of the cornerstones of The Weather Channel back in the 1990s was the widespread use of the WeatherStar 4000 machine to display local forecasts. I don’t know if many people know (or have ever stopped to think) about this, but every cable operator that carries The Weather Channel leases a machine that turns satellite-fed data from the channel’s headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia into information pertinent to the viewers in the specific area that the cable operator serves. The first machine designed to fulfill this function was called the WeatherStar. This name stuck with all subsequent upgrades and versions until the latest and greatest machine – the Intellistar – came out in 2004.
Today, most cable operators use the Intellistar or its slightly less sophisticated predecessor, the WeatherStar XL. However, a few select operators, primarily those that are either unaffiliated with one of the large cable conglomerates in the country or serve just a small base of customers, continue to use the WeatherStar 4000, the machine that defined The Weather Channel in the 1990s.
The WeatherStar 4000 debuted in 1990 as the first graphics-capable local forecast machine. Although they look charmingly outdated by today’s standards, the graphics on the WeatherStar 4000 made it stand out from its text-only precursors, one of which (the WeatherStar JR) is still used by a very small number of cable operators today.
What all of this leads to is a discovery I made all the way back in August. I was randomly browsing around Wikipedia, something I occasionally do when I get bored. I’m not quite sure how, but somehow I made it to the page that discusses The Weather Channel’s WeatherStar technology. Upon looking at the external links section, I noticed a link that led to the website of a maker of software that emulates the WeatherStar 4000 on any modern, Windows-based computer.
You can imagine my excitement when I clicked on that link. I knew I just had to get a hold of the program so that I could start running my own local forecasts on my own computer. As it turned out, however, getting the emulator wouldn’t be that simple. Over the summer, the people responsible for writing the emulator’s code discovered some sort of bug and took down the link to download it until a repaired version could be released.
Because the emulator is put out purely as a labor of love, fixing any problems that arise can take a while. Actually, a long while. An up-to-date, fully-functional version of the emulator wasn’t released until last weekend, meaning I had to patiently wait for my copy for nearly three months.
But now that I have the emulator and have set it up to display a local forecast for Grand Forks, I am thoroughly enjoying it. Seeing all of the screens from the WeatherStar 4000 brings back all those memories of watching the weather channel 10 or so years ago. In fact, here are some screenshots taken just a few moments ago (the actual output of the emulator is 800x600 pixels):
Do you want to run your own WeatherStar 4000 emulator on your computer? It’s easy to download it and set it up. Just head over to taiganet.com, read the information there, and then click on the link that says head over to the forums to get started. From there, the link to download the program is in the forum entitled downloads.
One important thing to note is that your computer will need to have the Microsoft .NET Framework Version 1.1 installed. If you don’t have it (most computers don’t), click on the link that says Microsoft .NET Framework on the taiganet.com homepage. Then download that program and install it. Once all of that is done, you can download and install the WeatherStar 4000 emulator.
It’s slightly tricky to get the emulator set up for the first time, but luckily there is good technical support on the taiganet.com forums. Head into the forum entitled tech support and look for the "sticky" post named Eltiempo's Documentation 'write-up', **updated**. This post will contain all the information necessary to set up the emulator. Alternatively, once you figure out what information you need to put in to make the emulator work correctly, you could use the handy weatherdaddy.us website.
Like the real-life WeatherStar 4000, the emulator also has the capability to play music. If you need any of the Muzak type of music played in the actual local forecasts, head on over to another great website for fans of The Weather Channel, twcclassics.com.
As for logos, those are also available on the forums at taiganet.com. Look in the general discussion forum.
So, there you have it, if you do decide to download the emulator, I hope you have fun with it!
Now, since I’ve been talking about the weather all throughout this post, I thought it would be good to include some photos of the recent weather in the Grand Forks area. A storm system associated with the cold front that brought cold weather to a large part of the country last week dumped a quick 1.5-2 inches of wet, slushy snow in Grand Forks last Monday, the 30th of October. As a result, October 31st – Halloween – looked and felt a lot more like November 31st. The snow largely stuck around until today, when the warmer temperatures invading the region began to melt it. In any event, here are a few photos:
The winter-looking scene along the Coulee - it's hard to see, but the water was already starting to freeze
The trees near Merrifield Hall cast shadows on the fresh snow
Your photographer and his footprints
Footprints leading up the hill behind Witmer Hall
This is what campus looked like on Halloween
Here's another Halloween scene - it was sort of strange to see leaves still on some of the trees