Dr. Know: June 2015

”Our readers made a difference!”

I wonder why so few Cincinnatians boast that we are the birthplace of American weather forecasting. In 1869, Cleveland Abbe invented the modern forecast right in Mt. Adams, eventually becoming the first director of the National Weather Service. In the biz, he’s a god. Why isn’t he more famous here? —Weather The Less

Dear Less:
Perhaps we can blame Mr. Abbe’s stunted local notoriety on his first name: Cleveland. His parents lacked the foresight to give him a more Cincinnati-appealing first name, like Giamatti, Steelers, or Zimpher. But a more familiar explanation is that his achievements got him lured away to a larger city, turning his footprint into a footnote.

Professor Abbe’s work here was truly historic, and equally brief and frustrating. The Cincinnati Observatory brought him to administer its Mt. Adams facility in 1868, but he soon found himself more drawn to meteorology over astronomy. It was then that Abbe combined science with salesmanship, getting help from Western Union to fund his vision of a telegraph network that could create predictive weather data. History credits him with issuing America’s first forecast in 1869, which he dubbed “weather predictions.” Abbe was summoned to Washington soon after and helped establish the National Weather Service.

By 1871, Cleveland Abbe and Cincinnati were divorced, and today hardly a trace of him exists around town. The observatory was reassembled in Mt. Lookout; a facility in Clifton once bearing Abbe’s name is now a private home; and when “taught at the University of Michigan” is on your résumé, nobody in Ohio jumps at building you a monument.


New street signs are gradually appearing in Cincinnati. They’re not in upper case anymore, so the letters are about half as tall. Doesn’t this degrade the entire purpose of a street sign, which is to help a motorist recognize a name as quickly as possible? Which bureaucratic genius decided this? —Capital Crime

Dear Crime:
No one in city government will accept responsibility for this one, or needs to. In 2009, the Federal Highway Administration decreed that all communities must improve the visibility of their road signs, citing studies that show lowercase letters are easier to recognize. Apparently, it did not occur to them that, um, shrinking the letters to half-size wrecks this entire strategy. You should apply for a federal grant commissioning the study that confirms this observation; the Doctor suggests requesting 4 million bucks.

To be fair, the street signs’ new letters actually rise to three-quarters of their former height, and they use a font specially designed for visual clarity. What’s still blurry is how cities are supposed to pay for yet another mandated federal chore.

In related news: a misspelled Cincinnati street sign was brought to the Doctor’s attention and noted in this space last December. Soon after publication of this shocking exposé, the city replaced the errant sign. Our readers made a difference! Enjoy the new sign. It’s in lowercase.


CVG airport has a weird escalator, the one that goes from the train shuttle up to the Delta terminal. Its handrail moves much, much faster than the steps! By the time you reach the Starbucks at the top, your arm is stretched out like you’re conducting a séance. Frankly, I find it sort of entertaining, but I wonder why it happens. —Reaching for the Stairs

Dear Stairs:
Thanks for openly expressing your amusement. Now wince as Delta adds a $3 Handrail Hilarity Fee. This escalator, designed to deliver you from the shuttle to the terminal swiftly, actually bypasses an entire level (Escalator Expedite Fee, $8). The extra length betrays a secret all escalators and moving walkways share: Handrails travel in a longer loop than steps, so each requires its own driving mechanism. Various synchronization methods have been developed over the years, but few work perfectly. Un-synchronicity only becomes noticeable when an escalator is unusually long or steep—such as the one at CVG.

Periodic adjustments would seem a solution to this problem, though your personal reaction suggests that the airport has stumbled upon a pleasant diversion for passengers to enjoy on the way to ordering a $6 cup of coffee. Sadly, the Doctor was unable to obtain a statement from the airport’s Director of Synchro-Tweaking, or even the person’s name. But cheer up; the in-flight magazine is yours to keep.

Dr. Know is Jay Gilbert, weekday afternoon deejay on 92.5 FM The Fox. Submit your questions about the city’s peculiarities at drknow@cincinnatimagazine.com

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