When you bump into someone in the store, usually the conversation starter is the weather.
For Bob Peters, it’s the conversation starter and ender.
Blind since 1955, Bob had two bylines a day in the paper and from the old newspaper offices in Tyler, would broadcast a weather report on KTBB.
When a reporter would do a weather story, Bob would be quoted in those as well as the expert in East Texas. And for good reason. He has charted the weather by hand and on a computer every day since 1962. Weather has been a part of his life for nearly 50 years, through working for the newspaper and radio and even as a professor and dean at Tyler Junior College.
Bob also wrote 10 books, eight on state government, one on state history and one on the history of Smith County.
So Bob called to throw out some weather numbers with the cold and snow possibly coming, just like he has for years. He rattles numbers and dates off the top of his head. He can write and type.
But before I got into the numbers, I had to know about being blind. Bob was hurt in high school playing basketball in 1955 and had a detached retina. The only places doing surgery were in New York and San Francisco. So he went to New York and had successful surgery and could see again.
He flew back to Dallas, but missed his connecting plane. His connecting plane crashed and 41 people onboard died.
Bob had no idea that had happened as he boarded a different plane. This was before radar and his plane flew into a tornado. The motors cut off and the plane fell 6,000 feet in two minutes. The turbulence re-detached his retina and he was blind again.
So he went back to New York for another surgery. This time, he started hemorrhaging so bad, he almost died so they stitched him back up. Bob returned to Texas glad to be alive and blind.
A friend who was in the Navy was able to sneak him six albums from the military that taught typing. He was self taught and very good. His newspaper, writing and teaching career was launched. And his doctorate, which is why many people call him Dr. Bob.
He subscribes to the digital edition of the newspaper and thanks to the synthetic program, the computer reads the stories out loud to him.
When I answered the phone, Dr. Bob started rattling off numbers.
“The longest period of sub-freezing temperatures I know of was in December of 1983 when we had 259 consecutive hours of sub-freezing temperatures,” Dr. Bob said. “It went below freezing at 3 a.m., so 39 hours so far right now.”
His records go back to 1883. He said the coldest day in history was Feb. 12, 1899 when it was -8 degrees in Tyler. Most places only have records starting around 1930.
Dr. Bob added, “The present cold outbreak is the coldest we’ve had since Dec. 31, 2017 to Jan 3, 2018 when we had 66 consecutive hours of sub-freezing temperatures. The coldest before that was Feb. 1, 2011 to Feb. 6, 2011, when we had 97 consecutive hours of sub-freezing temperatures. During that time also, we had our coldest temperature recently, which was on Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, 2011.”
On the morning of Dec. 23, 1989 it got to -2 degrees. On Jan. 18, 1930 it was -3. Not only does he give numbers, he sounds like a complex meteorologist explaining why the weather is colder here than Galveston and where the wind is going.
And what is bad weather news without some snow?
Bob talked about January of 1982 when we had nine inches of snow. We had 12.1 inches on Dec. 21, 1929 and snow on the ground for six consecutive days between Jan. 30 and Feb. 4, 1951.
I looked up an old Bob Peters article because this weekend is Valentine’s Day. In 2004, East Texas had up to six inches of snow.
“That’s right,” he said, “And on Feb. 26, 1966 we had 7.8 inches of snow.”
Dr. Bob takes observations each day at 6 p.m. He also tracks the 24-hour precipitation report. He estimates late Sunday into Wednesday we will have sub-freezing temperatures about 72 hours.
In Longview, the coldest day was Jan. 18, 1930 at -4 degrees and the Longview paper said in the Sunday edition on Jan. 19, it was the “coldest day since 1893 according to old timers.”
Now I had to read the rest of the paper.
The Longview paper front page had a six-column headline, “Youthful bank robber is slain.” Under that story was a short story about a 15-year-old bride who committed suicide by drinking Lysol because she was fighting with her youthful husband. The last sentence was “a crowd of curious spectators was present.” Also on that front page, columnist O.U. Wimmen wrote about dressing as a woman to write about what it’s like to attend the Women’s Chamber of Commerce banquet in Longview attended by 300 women from 13 communities. The women walked, some rode horses through the snow to get there. He sat between two women from Gladewater and thought he was going to give himself away when he tipped his cap.
As for the record cold day in 1989 in Tyler, the front page on Sunday, Dec. 24 had a “How ‘Bout Them Dawgs!” headline as Chapel Hill stunned previously undefeated A&M Consolidated, 14-0 to win the state championship in football. Another story was on U.S. troops into Panama, and of course, a weather story with quotes from Dr. Bob.
I asked Dr. Bob about the newspaper in those days.
“We had a leased wire (to receive the national news), a dedicated line and a police radio line. The police radio would send us over information. I would unplug that and plug in the radio wire to broadcast to KTBB,” he said. “I read the news from the Tyler Morning Telegraph with a headset. One night, I made a new pot of coffee and started doing the news. I got the pot of coffee tangled up in my headset and spilled it on my lap. Let’s just say there was a brief pause!”
Dr. Bob also remembers being in the office weekend of the Kennedy assassination. The paper had four dedicated phone lines and did not have a hold. So he would have two on his desk and take calls for three hours.
So this is my warning. If you see me shopping this weekend, you probably don’t want to ask me about the weather.
John Anderson is the regional editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph and Longview News-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.