After 23 years, The Weather Channel’s iconic computerized channel is shutting down

enlarge / Weatherscan live view in 2020. Weatherscan displays computer-controlled 24/7 weather forecasts.

In the early 2000s, Americans who wanted to catch the local weather forecast whenever they wanted could turn on their televisions and switch to Weatherscan, a 24-hour computer-controlled forecast channel with soothing, flowing jazz. 23 years later, The Weather Channel has announced that Weatherscan will be permanently shut down on or before December 9.

Launched in 1999, Weatherscan is now available in a dwindling number of local American cable TV and satellite markets. Shows automatic local weather information on a loop generated by a locally installed Intellistar computer system for each market. The dwindling viewing and prevalence of smartphone weather apps are the main reasons it goes offline.

As Weatherscan is offline, more TV providers are displaying messages like this.
enlarge / As Weatherscan is offline, more TV providers are displaying messages like this.

blue hill

There are also technical issues with maintaining the hardware behind the service. “Weatherscan has been slowly dying over the last 10 years as hardware wears out,” he says. insider news from the company. “Now it’s 20 years old and more and more cable companies are pulling in the service.”

Bates says giants like Comcast and Verizon have already abandoned Weatherscan, but smaller cable companies are keeping it. “Due to the small subscriber user base for the tech, I assume the Weather Channel has stopped carrying it. [the Weatherscan system] “So they finally let it run until we’re close to death. You probably have 60 or 70 Weatherscans [units] still in operation there. I don’t know the exact number.”

Over the years, Weatherscan has developed a cult following because of the way the service mixes computers with the weather, and a measure of nostalgia for the smooth jazz music that plays constantly over the forecast. Hobbies like Bates (who passes “technical knighton Twitter) have gathered the necessary hardware to run their own Weatherscan stations from their home. Some have also created software that simulates the service in a browser.

Mike Bates showcased an Intellistar computer running Weatherscan (blue unit, left) and Weather Star XL (right), as well as other hardware and TV station simulations, at VCF Midwest this year.
enlarge / Mike Bates showcased an Intellistar computer running Weatherscan (blue unit, left) and Weather Star XL (right), as well as other hardware and TV station simulations, at VCF Midwest this year.

The Weather Channel has garnered a huge following over the decades, and the community maintains a wiki full of intricate details about beloved on-air talent, discontinued programs, and the backend technology that brings it all together. It is this profound knowledge that inspires hobbyists like Bates to try to preserve equipment. “At the end of the day, we not only preserve the hardware and software we are nostalgic about, but we also preserve what made The Weather Channel what it once was.”

Recently, during the pandemic, Bates reverse-engineered an older Weather Channel computer called the Weather Star 4000. In the 1990s, Weatherscan provided on-screen computer forecasts until just before its launch in 1999, but some units still run into 2014. Weather Star software has inspired its own wave of nostalgia, including simulators that mimic its distinctive retro look.

An Intellistar computer system capable of running the Weatherscan TV service.
enlarge / An Intellistar computer system capable of running the Weatherscan TV service.

Mike Bates

However, running Weatherscan locally was primarily a team effort, led by friends named Ethan. Brian, and Jesse. One of the Intellistar computer models behind the service is running FreeBSD on a Pentium 4-based computer in a blue rack-mount enclosure. It includes an ATI card to render the graphics and a proprietary PowerPC-based card that brings it all together to make it launch-ready.

To get Weatherscan to work at home, the group of friends found decommissioned Intellistar volumes on eBay and used forensic tools to reconstruct data from hard drives and put together a working version of Weatherscan software from multiple sources. Since then, they have exhibited his work In shows like the Midwest Vintage Computer Festival last month.

A video by Mike Bates showing the restoration of the Intellistar computer system.

The announcement of Weatherscan’s impending death came in a letter to the National Content and Technology Cooperative (NCTC) in mid-September. A few alternative TV weather services remain, such as AccuWeather National and WeatherNation, but none will have that smooth jazz appeal. Despite this, Weatherscan’s spirit will live on thanks to fans like Bates.

“It’s an iconic thing that has long been forgotten, except by the curious,” Bates says. “But the way we consume content has changed drastically. It’s the end of an era.”


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