Meeting the Pierces

Charlie Pierce, 1981 Photo courtesy the Pierce family.
As described in Chapter 5, it is very likely that we will never know exactly what went on at the D.C. Weather Bureau Headquarters on the day when the Hurricane arrived unannounced. Pages 87-96 describe in as much detail as possible what we know for sure, what is likely although not known for sure, and what we can’t know and probably will never know about the story. Much of it revolves around young Charles H. (Charlie) Pierce, the only meteorologist to accurately determine that the Hurricane was coming straight for New England, even though that information never made it to the public. I was recently privileged to meet one of his sons, Mr. Charles R. (Bhekaron) Pierce, who came to visit with his daughter Holly, Charlie’s granddaughter. He is a retired English teacher living in Denmark and she is a youth therapist associated with Dartmouth College. They had just become aware of the book and I was pleased to hear that they very much appreciate my descriptions of their father/grandfather and feel the account is fair and nuanced, and that it gave them more information about the story than they knew before. I enjoyed telling them everything I was able to learn about Pierce through my research, including my conclusion that he was the first one to ever observe and recognize the extratropical transition of a hurricane (as described on pages 90-91 and 128-129). They shared stories about him and the mental picture they painted for me was very much in line with the impression I have formed over the years from reading the scarce information I was able to unearth: a remarkably smart, pleasant, and humble man who loved weather and forecasting.

He had three boys with his wife Betty (of which Mr. Bheka, as his friends call him, is the middle one), and they kept their house full of books and science toys for their boys and later for their grandkids. At one point in his career he was offered an administrative position that he did not take, claiming that the weather outside was already hard enough to predict, so he did not want to have to deal with the weather inside the office. Mr. Pierce believes that his father simply did not want to stop doing the job he loved so much, an excellent life lesson for his young sons. He recalls hearing his father’s voice relaying the forecast on WHDH radio, and says that the local fishermen always hoped it was him, since he was “the one that mostly got it right.” He also constantly regaled his family with weather jokes and often recited the old rhyme: “Whether the weather be fine, or whether the weather be not…” (I tried to track down where this rhyme originated from, but there is not much information available, except that it was already around in the early 1920s, the author is unknown, and it is likely of British origin. The full poem reads: Whether the weather be fine/Or whether the weather be not/Whether the weather be cold/Or whether the weather be hot/We'll weather the weather/Whatever the weather/Whether we like it or not.”)

"Bheka" (Charlie's son), me, and Holly (Charlie's granddaughter)
And I definitely had to laugh out loud about this one: “He loved driving us after our Sunday lunch out to somewhere for what he called a ride-walk. We’d go to that somewhere and walk. Quite often Blue Hill. Once, on the way home, I saw some cattle in a field. Some were standing and some lying down. Cows lying down, as I guess you know, was supposed to mean imminent rain. So, I asked my dad what that meant. He answered, ‘Chance of showers.’ Well, actually, he made that joke roughly 178 times and always laughed as though it were the first time.”

Pierce never talked to his children much about his claim to fame as the only forecaster to correctly predict the Hurricane. He was not one to either brag or naysay his superiors. His son and I talked about the fact that the story did not surface until relatively recently, but we agreed that it was probably known internally, and that the awards that he received in the early 1970s (page 96) were in part because of it. The dramatized story as we might hear it today did not come to light until the early 2000s, with vague mentions of a junior forecaster staring in the late 1980s (as described on page 89). Pierce’s death in the mid 1990s means that he did not live to see the rise of his legend, at which he would have likely and good naturedly winced.