Discussing the weather was never small talk for William L. Turner. As meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service station in Chatham, he faced the challenge of trying to pin down New England’s seemingly unpredictable weather patterns.
Barometers could bring news of bad weather, not to mention the hostility that often came with the shoot-the-messenger response.
“In this business, you have to have a tough skin,” he told the Cape Cod Times on his retirement in 1984. “If the weather’s bad, you’re to blame. But you’re never to blame when it’s good.”
Mr. Turner, who also had run a bed-and-breakfast on Nantucket, died July 25 in Kindred Nursing and Rehabilitation-Brigham Manor in Newburyport of complications of cardiopulmonary arrest and cancer. He was 88 and lived in Newburyport.
When Mr. Turner took over the Chatham station in the early 1970s, it was a new facility boasting cutting-edge equipment. Measurements were taken via soaring balloons several times a day, and the radar had a radius of 250 miles.
‘In this business, you have to have a tough skin. If the weather’s bad, you’re to blame. But you’re never to blame when it’s good.’
He initially oversaw about a dozen employees, but over the years he had to deal with shrinking budgets and staff reductions.
Mr. Turner took on all the challenges his job brought, which was true to character, said his longtime friend Henry Foley of Norwood, who recalled that even as a young boy Mr. Turner “always knew how to resolve the issue, instead of going around and around.”
In the 1984 interview with the Cape Cod Times, Mr. Turner said he considered his career choice fortunate.
“I lucked out,” he said. “It’s been an interesting job. Probably what I liked most about it was the recognition you get as a weatherman. Weathermen are unique; there’s not too many of them around.”
Like many weather patterns he tracked, Mr. Turner’s path to meteorology would have been difficult to predict.
A Norwood native, he served in the Navy during World War II and was stationed in the Pacific theater.
As for studying meteorology, “like most things, it was an accident,” he said in the 1984 interview. When the Navy offered training options, “being young, I did what most kids would do and picked the one closest to home,” he recalled.
Mr. Turner launched his official education in all things weather-related at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He stuck with the field after finishing his Navy duty.
“I don’t know if you realize what it was like for guys returning from World War II,” he told the Cape Cod Times. “I wanted a paycheck.”
He applied to what is now the National Weather Service and got a telegram stating he was “urgently needed” in Alaska. Serving in Anchorage for two years, he learned to pilot an aircraft.
Mr. Turner spent a few months with an Atlantic weather project that involved 21-day cycles of gathering data from a Coast Guard cutter.
During one stint back in Boston between cycles, he was introduced to Mary Alice Curran, the sister of childhood friends.
After 28 days of dating, he left for a six-month job in the Caribbean. They married shortly after his return in 1953.
“He was just one of those old-fashioned men of that generation who put family first, and who had a lot of dignity and integrity, and were great role models,” said his niece Kathy McCrossan of Medfield.
Because of his career path, she said, “he was just so interested in everything, and was very interesting to talk to.”
In the mid-1950s, Mr. Turner landed a job closer to where he had grown up. He took a position at the National Weather Service’s Nantucket station, housed at the airport.
He subsequently was transferred to the station at Worcester’s airport, where he supplied pilots with forecasts. He spent 12 years there before being promoted to meteorologist in charge at the then-new Chatham station.
“It was a lot harder in the 1950s and 1960s than what we see today,” said his daughter Maura Ockerbloom of Yarmouthport.
Because Mr. Turner didn’t have the more sophisticated equipment that is available today, he had to rely more on instinct, his family said.
“He had a sixth sense about weather,” said his daughter Colleen Secino of Newburyport. “He was just so immersed in it all the time that it would make sense he would pick up on things.”
One key part of the job was supplying critical information to media outlets for their weather broadcasts.
“He had a real gift for reading the data and information that he gathered and putting all that together, so accurate information could go to on-air personalities,” Secino said.
As the field of meteorology evolved, Mr. Turner kept taking correspondence courses at various universities.
He finally accumulated enough credits to receive a bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York, in 1983. Mr. Turner retired from the Chatham station the following year.
In addition to his wife and two daughters, Mr. Turner leaves two sons, W. Christopher of Brunswick, Maine, and Brian of Northborough; and six grandchildren.
A service has been held. His body was donated to the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Anatomical Gift Program.
In recent years, Mr. Turner volunteered with the Meals on Wheels program, bringing food to the elderly. His chatty nature led him to often linger at homes where he was assigned to deliver meals, his family said.
“He had a very distinctive laugh and he used it a lot,” McCrossan said. “And he was very straightforward. He spoke his mind really clearly and concisely, and you knew where you stood.”