working at Unisys in the early nineties when the cold war ended and the
"Ill Wind" scandal hit at the same time, causing Unisys to shed jobs at
its Great Neck, Long Island facility in massive numbers. In three years,
the number of employees at the location went from 6,000 to under 1,000,
and eventually down to about 350.
midst of that depressing chaos, lots of really good engineers got laid
off; one of them was one of the best engineers I ever worked with, a
design engineer named Lou F. Because he was held in such high regard, Lou
was offered a job as a field engineer, and in order to support his family,
he took it although it meant non-stop traveling -- weeks and
months at a time at locations across the United States. The life of a
field engineer was a notoriously lonely job; word had it that many became
alcoholics -- in most towns there was nothing to do but hit a bar after
work. If anything it was a good job if you were just starting out in your
twenties but not if you had a family. Lou was in his late forties or early
fifties with his kids in high school or junior high and after a year, he
told me the traveling was killing him but he had to do it to
support his family -- there were not many engineering jobs to go around in
the early nineties. His vacations became his opportunities to be home with
his family. He treasured his long weekends.
job was helping to install NEXRAD radar towers. Thanksgiving weekend, 1993
Lou gets a special order from the company -- a NEXRAD tower HAS TO go up
that weekend in the mountains of California. This means Lou loses his
Thanksgiving weekend to be with his family! You can imagine how pissed off
he was. But you gotta do what the company tells you to do so Lou spends
the entire weekend putting up this tower. They got the job done on time in
record time; three days. Amazing.
All of that was from Lou.
The rest of this story is from Lou and other engineers who were
involved with the project. Word has it Monday morning
after Thanksgiving Larry Hagman wakes up or arrives at his
multi-million-dollar palatial estate on a hill in the Pacific
Pallisades and sees a HUGE NEXRAD tower almost virtually in his
backyard! NEXRAD towers that use Doppler technology to measure the
velocity of raindrops to determine if a tornado is forming two hours
before it actually forms, and give really good weather forecasting as
well; state of the art for the early nineties, but also radars that
many communities were afraid of because the electromagnetic emissions
could be damaging or cause cancer for those located nearby, not to
mention it absolutely RUINED Larry Hagman's view of the Pacific
you've never seen a NEXRAD tower, it is about 50 feet high -- a tower with
what looks like a HUGE white soccer ball at the top; that's the radome
within which is located the transmitter and receiver dish; the radome
protects them from the elements and make the tower quite appealing to
soccer and golf fans.
then came the community opposition, led by Larry Hagman, and lawsuits and
claims that the tower caused the indigenous California Condor, which was a
protected species, to not fly into the area as it normally would. In an
attempt to appease Larry and the community, the National Weather Service
promised to make the tower blend into the mountaintop, and had the tower
painted green to match its surroundings. But the surroundings were mostly
brown so now Larry had a big tower with what looked like a big GREEN
soccer ball in his backyard, amidst a brown background.
I cannot find anything on
the internet to verify that last bit of information, and certainly the
picture at the right makes it arguable; I haven't seen or talked to
Lou F since I left Unisys in 1994 and I can't find him on Facebook.
Anycase that's my Larry Hagman story; the rest of the story you can
find on line in newstories such as this one:
Just in case the article disappears, we reproduce it below, and below
that, some Google Earth images of the tower.
Larry Hagman and NEXRAD, picture from
the Ojai Valley News
From the Ojai Valley
NEXRAD tower issue
By Jesse Phelps
Part I of a two-part review of
where we stand with the Sulphur Mountain weather tower
The National Academy of
Sciences is undertaking a study on the NEXRAD flood warning tower
on Sulphur Mountain Road, according to United States Senator
Barbara Boxer of California. The study should help confirm whether
the tower is adequately performing the function for which it's
intended: early prediction of weather patterns and, particularly,
warnings for flash floods in Ventura County and the Los Angeles
The tower, which appeared suddenly on the horizon atop Suphur
Mountain during the four-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend of 1993,
has been the target of questions and controversy for nearly a
decade. Local residents have complained that the microwave pulse,
emitted several times an hour by the tower, presents dangers to
the health of those Upper Ojai residents living in close
In addition, the tower, which officials of the National Weather
Service claimed would blend in with the natural landscape, sticks
out like a bee-stung albino thumb upon the otherwise pristine
Many residents living in the area when the tower first appeared
have now moved and, for a time, housing values in the area dropped
considerably, according to nearby homeonwers. Others still living
on Sulphur Mountain report high incidents of cancer and other
maladies. Though they cannot be directly linked to the tower,
these incidents have increased suspicion of the tower's viability
as a harmless, indeed, helpful addition to the region.
The latest issue is whether the tower even does its job. "Concerns
have been raised that the NEXRAD is not effective in providing
sufficient warnings," said Boxer, in an April 7 letter to National
Academy of Sciences president Bruce Alberts. "Although the General
Accounting Office studied the performance of the Sulphur Mountain
radar in 1998, concerns have been raised that the study contained
conflicting evidence, and the conclusions did not always appear to
match the data," Boxer wrote.
"As you conduct this study, I hope that you will specifically
examine the warning failure rate and radar data gap."
Boxer's concerns were echoed by
Sulphur Mountain resident Larry Hagman, who at one point offered
to foot the bill (in excess of $3,000,000) to move the tower to a
new location where it might perform better and with less potential
danger to local residents.
"It's been missing between half and three-quarters (of the
events)," said Hagman. "It's in the wrong position, and it has
been the whole time. It doesn't pick up the storms under 6,000
feet, as it's designed to, because it's too high."
Hagman said that he continues to be embroiled in a battle with the
weather service, which continues to deny any problems. "We finally
got anough proof for Sen. Boxer to ask for mney to do a survey on
it," he said. "And we got it, after six years."
Hagman aserted that, despite its claims that all is fine, the
government put in a second Southern California tower to compensate
for the lack of coverage.
"It was not working so well that the Weather Service asked for
another doppler radar to be put down in Anaheim. That one is quite
good and it covers the basin," he said.
Hagman, whose property sits no more than a half-mile from the
radar tower, says the survey will receive funding of "up to a
half-million dollars." He hopes it can be completed within about a
In Wednesday's edition of the Ojai Valley News, we will explore
specific data on the tower's efficiency and find out where
residents are prepared to go from here, should the study find the
tower to be effective.